File Virtualization For Dummies

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Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons has been in the information business for 200 years, publishing scientific, technical and medical journals; encyclopedias, books and online products; professional and consumer books, including the popular “For Dummies” series; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students.

As you can imagine, storing all of that information electronically requires a lot of bytes — so much so that Wiley was having to double its storage every year. Finally, in 2005, after maxing out different storage technologies as well as its capital expense budget, Wiley’s director of IT Infrastructure, James Sample, started looking at ways to decrease the amount of backup disk and tape Wiley was using as well as the backup window.

“We were maxing out whatever the largest storage technology was at the time,” said Sample. “So if I could buy a 5 TB array one year, I would buy it. But the next year I would need to buy a 10 TB array, and so on.” Not only did that get to be very expensive, but migrating all that data got to be very time-consuming and disruptive.

“When you’re moving 50 GB to a new array, it’s not too much of a problem,” he said. “Even 200 GB is okay. But when you’re moving 5 TB to a 10 TB array, you’re looking at an outage window of five to six days to replicate and migrate all that data,” which was unacceptable to Sample and his team.

So they started looking “for something that would give users access to all the storage whenever they wanted, would allow us to add storage without having to replace anything, would allow us to move data without having to take users offline, and would be transparent to users,” said Sample.

The most obvious, cost-efficient choice, at least for Sample, was file virtualization.

Virtualizing Macs

After looking at several different vendors, Sample and his team ruled out a software-based solution. “Our corporate office in Hoboken tried the EMC solution, which is software-based, and found it was unworkable with Macintosh computers.” (According to Sample, Macs don’t follow the file stubs that the EMC solution leaves behind to route you to the new file location.) Since a good third of Wiley’s users are Mac users, Sample and his team sought out a hardware-based solution that would be platform-agnostic.

After looking around, Sample found only one file virtualization solution that really addressed all of Wiley’s needs, Acopia Networks’ ARX system with FreedomFabric software. Offering high performance and scalability, Acopia’s ARX systems support CIFS and NFS file access protocols, so they easily integrate into multi-vendor, multi-platform file storage environments, including network attached storage (NAS) and Windows and UNIX/Linux file server infrastructures. They also simplify the management of file storage environments and lower total storage costs by automating data management tasks and eliminating the disruption associated with storage management operations.

Installation was extremely easy, said Sample, who actually surprised some of the engineers at Acopia with his deep knowledge of switches, which made installation go even faster, with the whole process taking just a few hours. (Acopia and Sample both note that typical installation takes one to two days, depending on the system, the amount of data and what’s already in place.)

Exceeding Expectations

Even more impressive, Wiley’s ARX system has lived up to the hype, according to Sample.

“The expectations I had on how it would affect our backups wasn’t even close,” he said. “Our main file server has 5.5 terabytes of files on it right now. And we set up the system so that we do incremental backups every night and then a weekly full backup. The first thing we wanted to do was to shrink that full backup. So we decided, let’s not worry about any files that are older than a month, because if they’re older than a month, they’ve already been on four weekly backups and haven’t changed. So let’s just take all those files, move them someplace else, and tell the tape backup software to just back them up once a month now instead of every week.”

The result was impressive, exceeding Sample’s expectations. Now instead of backing up 5.5 TB every Friday night, Wiley is down to around 200 GB (though they are still hitting 5.5 TB on their monthly backup). “We went from 40 tapes a week at $50 a tape to just four tapes a week,” said Sample. “That’s a significant decrease in price.”

Next up, Sample and his team are looking into taking files that are more than a year old (and haven’t been modified) and backing them up just once a year. Having run some simulations, Sample estimates that would keep his weekly backups at about 200 GB but would bring his monthly backups down to around 800 GB. “So by the end of this fiscal year, we’re looking at going from several hundred tapes a year and dropping that down to about 100 tapes a year,” he said.

As for his disk-based storage, “I’m backing up so little, I can hold two months worth of backups on disk,” said Sample. In fact, thanks to the Acopia ARX system, Sample was able to remove a $50,000 line item for more disk-based storage from his budget.

The Acopia ARX system also allows Sample and his team to automatically and transparently replicate Wiley’s critical files to failover servers, ensuring recoverability in case of a disaster.

Is File Virtualization Right For You?

“If you have more than one filer, more than one tier of storage, more than one physical file server, or you’ve got lots of files and you’re in the terabyte range, it makes sense to take a look at intelligent file virtualization,” said Kirby Wadsworth, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Acopia Networks.

“Really, anybody who’s having difficulty managing complexity in the file environment, who can’t afford to have any disruption in their business workflow, who is trying to implement a lifecycle management strategy and put files onto less expensive second-tier storage, is a potential user of file virtualization,” he said.

Wiley is a perfect case in point. “Wiley has really taken advantage of the economic benefit of implementing intelligent file virtualization in a powerful way,” said Wadsworth. “They’re well up the curve in terms of understanding the technology and, as a result, they’re really getting a lot out of it.”

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Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff is a business and technology writer and a contributor to Enterprise Storage Forum. She also runs Schiff & Schiff Communications, a marketing firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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