Z-Force gives skinny on futuristic 'file switch'

NAS (network attached storage) startup Z-Force on Thursday emerged from its stealth mode to unveil the company's plans to develop what it calls a "file switch."

Although still essentially on the drawing board, Z-Force's file switch should improve the scalability and manageability of NAS configurations by "bringing switching to the file environment" and eliminating the need to cluster NAS systems, according to Stephen Terlizzi, vice president of marketing at Z-Force, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Z-Force's file switch will be a hardware device that operates on a company's IP Ethernet network, where NAS storage devices most commonly reside. There, the file switch will connect multiple NAS devices through a single switch, allowing administrators to manage multiple NAS devices and add increased NAS capacity through the ease of a single, browser-based interface, said Terlizzi.

The Z-Force file switch should be able to allow administrators to scale their NAS capacity to over 128TB without a disruptive, or "forklift" upgrade to the rest of the NAS network, said Terlizzi.

The first file switch products for NAS are expected sometime within the next 12 months to 18 months, said Terlizzi.

The advantage of a file switch like Z-Force's is the ability to add NAS while managing the same exact file system, said Dave Hill, research director for storage and storage management at Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston.

"One of the problems NAS has is the ability to scale," said Hill. "You have a NAS head and a storage array behind it, but if you run out of capacity in the first array, you have to add a new NAS head. While that can be done, you'd like to use the same file system (as the original NAS had), and what this switch does is give that kind capability."

Z-Force's file switch will connect to and manage mixed vendor NAS systems, but Terlizzi recommends a single vendor environment to avoid a "weakest link" scenario where the overall performance of a NAS network, managed by the file switch, is dragged down by slower systems that might reside in a mixed-vendor environment.

In time, Z-Force plans to take the file switch concept to the database and application layers of the network as well, said Terlizzi. Plans to produce a SQL Server file switch for the database are set within a two-year timeframe. Plans to deliver an application server file switch extend out to the four-year range, said Terlizzi.

Currently, Z-Force is working to make its file switch compatible with a variety of third-party vendor NAS systems prior to the product's launch, said Terlizzi.

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