Cisco introduces File Engine appliance

Companies looking to consolidate their storage at a central data center can now purchase WAFS technology from Cisco for network-based file sharing.

Cisco Systems Inc. today introduced its File Engine series appliance based on the wide area file services (WAFS) technology it picked up with the acquisition of Actona Technologies Inc. last summer.

The File Engine, which eliminates the need for backup devices,and file and print servers at remote offices, centralizes data in file servers located at the main data center. Users access files over the network through the WAFS-enabled File Engine, achieving LAN-like performance -- even at very remote branch offices, Cisco claims.

"Consolidating remote branch-office file services and storage to a central location will make it easier for IT administrators to manage these discrete resources," said a spokesperson for Cisco.

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The File Engine can be configured as a core or edge device, with the core filer serving files out to the edge. Cisco claims a key difference between its technology and that of the competition is native support for CIFS and NFS protocols. "It doesn't matter if you are running on Windows or Linux -- there's no protocol translation required," the spokesperson said. In addition, some of the competing WAFS products are inline devices, which Cisco says is not the best way to design this technology. "You don't want the traffic to impact network QoS or asymmetric routing -- inline is not the best path," the spokesperson said.

Greg Bosworth, manager of IT at engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB), bought three of the Actona devices and has just traded those in for 15 File Engines from Cisco. VHB isn't using the File Engines for consolidation purposes but to share files between offices. "We have hundreds of gigabytes of data, and keeping track of that has been a nightmare," Bosworth said. Now, the engineers share one virtual file no matter where they are located, and a locking algorithm in the software prevents more than one user writing to the file at a time.

Bosworth said he might eventually consider pulling out print servers and backup devices from their remote offices, but he's concerned that these locations will still function as independent offices even if the WAN went down. "We're at step one. Pulling out all your people and IT over there, that's another question," he said.

The File Engines are available today for a list price of $12,000, which includes a license to support up to 50 branch office users. Additional 50-user license packs are priced at $4,500.

Steve Duplessie, senior analyst and founder of the Enterprise Strategy Group, noted that until the availability of WAFS technology, there was no real practical way to solve the latency issues involved in accessing files over long distances. "Staying at a higher applications level, and not just focusing on the pipe itself, is a critical ingredient to be able to successfully pull this off," he said.

Other companies that make WAFS products include: Tacit Networks Inc, Riverbed Technologies and Signiant Corp.

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