Start-up tackles file proliferation

NeoPath Networks' founders came up with the idea for their initial product while trying to manage the accumulation of files across computers on their home networks.

It struck them that the same problem must exist in businesses.

"The user problem is that unstructured, file-based data is growing like mad," says Bob Nusbaum, senior product manager at the company. "The first [network-attached storage] system is a blessing, the fifth is a headache. . . . You end up with data scattered all over the place, which you have trouble finding."

The company, which was founded in April 2002 as Meta Data Systems and has raised $18 million in funding, is introducing a hardware/software appliance this week called the File Director. The product consolidates direct-attached storage, NAS and Windows and Linux file servers into a common pool for easier management and faster access.

NeoPath's File Director attaches to the network via Gigabit Ethernet and gathers attributes and creates a metadata reference for each file stored so users can find them faster without having to know the physical location.

Carl Kesselman, director of the Center for Grid Technologies at the University of Southern California in Marina del Rey, has beta-tested File Director.

"We deal with large amounts of data on a variety of NAS devices spread across our lab," Kesselman says. "The idea of consolidating the devices so they are easier to administer appealed to us."

The File Director also can host applications that govern the movement or migration of data for information life-cycle management purposes. A policy engine is included that automatically can migrate files based on rules the IT manager sets.

The File Director collects only unstructured data or files, which Enterprise Strategy Group says are 80% of the data on the network. The product does not look at data stored on storage-area networks unless it has a file presentation enabled through a NAS gateway.

File Director works with any storage device that stores data in Unix/Linux Network File System (NFS) or Microsoft Common Internet File System formats.

The company, whose top management largely come from security product vendor Ingrian Systems, makes File Director available as a single server appliance or as a cluster of servers arranged in an active/standby configuration for failover purposes.

The product supports a class of storage functionality known as file system virtualization, where individual file systems are consolidated under a global namespace from which they can be managed and manipulated.

Others offering products in this market include Acopia, NuView, Rainfinity and Z-Force. NuView has a software-based approach to Windows file system virtualization, while the others have hardware implementations.

A single File Director costs US$30,000; a clustered version is priced at US$50,000.

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