Z-force Delivers Next-Generation NAS

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Z-force has released its first product, a file switch that allows network-attached storage (NAS) to scale incrementally.

The ZX-1000 File Switch is “a new network node that enables the creation of the first truly scalable CIFS (Common Internet File System) architecture,” the start-up claims. Based on industry-standard components, the ZX-1000 File Switch lets network-attached storage scale from as little as 500 Gigabytes to more than 1.5 Petabytes in a single file system, while delivering anywhere from 190 Megabytes per second to more than 3 GB per second of bandwidth.

With the file switch, companies can build a high-performance, easy-to-manage, file-based storage network for about a penny per megabyte, two-thirds less than comparable solutions, claims Z-force. The company expects the switch to drive the transition of NAS from closed, proprietary point solutions to an open, standards-based, and scalable architecture.

“The Z-Force solution is unique and should be easily adoptable,” says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group. “There are a number of next-generation NAS vendors now on the market. All of these vendors allow a user to scale their NAS solutions under a single file system; however, currently this requires that the user buy the next-generation vendor’s NAS solutions.

“Z-Force addresses both new and existing NAS customer requirements by allowing them to scale existing or new NAS solutions under the file switch. A user could take their existing CIFS NAS solutions, put them behind a Z-Force switch, and ‘morph’ them together under a single file system. That’s a pretty powerful solution for customers that have been dealing with the complexities of managing multiple NAS boxes.”

The ZX-1000 is ideal for digital content creation, streaming media, and content management businesses that require high bandwidth, high capacity, and incremental scalability in heavy read environments, says Z-force, claiming that it is already gaining traction in these markets with customers who have chosen to implement the file switch rather than continue to add proprietary storage to their environments.

Z-force also announced that Sanborn, a provider of photogrammetric mapping and geographic information system (GIS) services, recently implemented the Z-force File Switch to add incremental capacity to its storage network.

“We chose to partner with Z-force because the file switch will allow us to significantly expand our storage capacity without the exorbitant expense and complexity associated with traditional proprietary NAS solutions,” states Stephen Rochford, director of Information Technology at Sanborn.

At the Heart of NAS Arrays

Similar to a RAID controller in a RAID Array, Z-force says its file switch sits at the heart of an architecture called a NAS Array, enabling an unlimited number of industry-standard, off-the-shelf NAS devices to be aggregated into a single high-performance storage network.

The file switch front-ends a server set of industry-standard NAS devices based on the Microsoft Windows Server Appliance Kit (SAK), Linux, Free BSD, or proprietary operating systems. The architecture requires no special software to be added to either the clients or the NAS devices, and connects to a standard Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN). Because the architecture utilizes industry-standard components, Z-force claims it “enables a brand new cost model for NAS” because of lower capital acquisition costs and the low maintenance costs associated with the architecture.

Administrators can expand capacity by adding NAS devices behind the switch. These devices can be added to the system without disruption and then populated with data through a simple management interface, according to Z-force. To add bandwidth, the administrator simply adds file switches without having to take the system down. The architecture eliminates the need for service disruptions typically associated with adding disk drives or with re-allocating files across newly added systems, and it eliminates the “hot spotting” common in environments using several proprietary “big box” point solutions, claims Z-force.

“Z-force has proven that an open, industry-standard architecture based on commodity components can enable scalability never before seen in the NAS market,” boasts Dan Cloer, Z-force’s director of product marketing. “The file switch will make the inherently limited, proprietary ‘big box’ approaches a thing of the past.”

The environment can scale from 500 GB, using one file switch and one NAS device, to more than 1.5 PB, using up to 16 file switches and up to 256 NAS devices. Enterprises can achieve near-linear bandwidth scalability by stacking file switches with peak bandwidth performance from a single switch of 190 MB per second, according to Z-force.

Regardless of the size of the NAS Array, all files utilized within the Z-force environment are represented by a single, universal namespace, so additions or changes to the NAS Array are handled non-disruptively.

Based on rules entered into the file switch by IT managers, the file switch can stripe and mirror the individual files across multiple NAS devices based on the unique needs of the individual customer. The rules for striping and mirroring can be set on a variety of “file aware” attributes, such as file type or path.

The file switch utilizes a command line interface as well as a web user interface. Aggregation rules entered into the master file switch are then populated across the full set of file switches in the array. When NAS devices are added to the server set, the system administrator adds them into the configuration, and the new capacity is instantly available without bringing the system down. A read-only recovery utility ensures that even in an environment where there is no file switch available, users can access any of the files on the array.

The file switch supports Windows NT domain and Active Directory user authentication. It also includes access control and security enforcement as well as the ability to provide user ownership for files and directories in Windows workgroup, Windows NT domain, and Windows Active Directory environments through the use of an embedded Windows 2000 Server.

The file switch is compatible with all CIFS operating systems, as supported by Windows 2000, and access is also available for Linux and Macintosh operating systems. The switch itself is architected as an HA device with redundant network connections, power supplies, and fans. It fits into a standard 19” rack and consumes 3U of space. It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, two for LANs and two for NAS.

The file switch lists for $47,000, and is currently available through Bell Microproducts, Dell, Rorke Data, and Rackable Systems, as well as directly through Z-force.

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for Time.com, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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