AutoVirt steps deeper into file virtualization

AutoVirt plows ahead into a market where others have failed, but claims its approach to file virtualization is more cost-effective and less disruptive than its predecessors.

Despite a lack of success in the market from several vendors who came before it, startup AutoVirt Inc. is pushing deeper into file virtualization with an upgrade to its AutoVirt 3.0 global namespace product released today.

AutoVirt came out of stealth last October with a focus on data migration, though its product also performed file virtualization by integrating a proprietary global namespace with Microsoft's Domain Name System (DNS) server.

Now with AutoVirt 3.0, the startup will use its global namespace for day-to-day file management, putting it more firmly in the realm of file virtualization as it has been previously understood.

AutoVirt CEO Josh Klein said other file virtualization plays have failed because of price and because they've disrupted customers' environments by replacing their existing namespace with a new global namespace. "AutoVirt doesn't require manual reconnection of [file] paths," he said.

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To accomplish this, AutoVirt 3.0 lets customers manage existing namespaces from the same console as the new global namespace, giving them the option of phasing in file virtualization slowly or virtualizing only new files. It also adds integration with Microsoft Corp.'s DFS-R, which some customers already use for replication and file virtualization. "With that interoperability you can use DFS-R for replication as well," said Brian Gladstein, AutoVirt's vice president of marketing.

With Version 3.0, customers can use file virtualization for three data movement policy types – data migration, where the master file is moved from its original location; replication, where multiple copies are stored in multiple locations; and archiving, where volatile and nonvolatile data is separated based on access criteria and moved between tiers of storage.

"We're not looking to be the 'expert system', telling the user 'here's how you should do this'," Gladstein said. "We let the user set the policies. In conversations with customers, this is what they want."

AutoVirt executives said their product is cheaper than other remaining file virtualization offerings like Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s StorageX or F5 Networks Inc.'s ARX switch.

"IT organizations are very heavily loaded, especially in a down economy," said David Hill, an analyst at Mesabi Group. "This is the poor man's solution for doing [file virtualization and management] – it's a simple and transparent approach that doesn't cause extra confusion."

"There's some possibility of doing business out there," said Jeff Boles, a senior analyst and director, validation services at Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, pointing to the survival of Brocade's StorageX and F5's ARX. "AutoVirt has now demonstrated a competency in migrating data, and has made itself accessible to the midmarket."

However, Boles predicted that the bulk of AutoVirt's business and use cases will still come from data migration going forward. "File virtualization will probably be a small market for them."

At Storage Networking World Fall 2009 in Phoenix, Mike Williams, a senior network engineer at San Diego-based Five Point Capital Inc., said AutoVirt 3.0 saved him $100,000 and reduced his hardware footprint and power consumption when the early adopter used it to migrate data off an aging file server. Williams said half the savings came from not having to buy a new storage array, while the rest came from personnel costs. He consolidated five file servers to two and bought 5 TB of disk for $610.

Williams said AutoVirt helps avoid vendor lock-in by facilitating easy data migration. "You can change location of any data because of global namespace, and it keeps running," he said.

He added: "Linux and Unix ninjas may not like it" because it's Windows-centric and alerts "for every single thing" annoyed him at times, but he completed his migration in less than three days without ever consulting the product guide.

(Senior news director Dave Raffo contributed to this story)

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