Compaq gears up file virtualization

Compaq Computer Corp. is in the early stages of developing its own flavor of a data management architecture that will allow IT organizations to attach self-describing rules and policies to different types of data. Part of an initiative dubbed ENSA-2, the architecture extends Compaq's ENSA (Enterprise Network Storage Architecture) initiative announced in 1998.

"We need to create rules around content," said Mark Lewis, vice president and general manager for Compaq's Enterprise Storage division. "One way to think of this is that we need to start putting luggage tags on the luggage."

Once developed, ENSA-2, which is expected to span offerings from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) in the event of a successful merger by the two companies, will be further extended to products from other third-party vendors, said Lewis.

The technique being implemented by Compaq is essentially called "file virtualization," a fledgling software technology quietly peddled since the beginning of the year, directly and through re-sellers, by companies like KOM Networks, in Ontario, Canada. EMC's acquisition of Belgium-based FilePool was also a step by EMC in the direction of file virtualization.

Not to be confused with storage virtualization, file virtualization allows administrators to assign data files to specific storage servers using the characteristics of the file such as type, creation date, and author.

"Where storage virtualization abstracts physical devices into logical ones, file virtualization makes the files independent of the devices they seem to be residing on, physical or logical. And since it spreads the files across multiple storage systems, it gives you essentially boundless file space," explained Dan Tanner, a senior storage analyst at Aberdeen Group, in Boston.

According to Lewis, enterprisewide data management architectures like ENSA-2 will be particularly important when it comes to supporting mobile computing applications that span the globe.

"What people want is for their data to follow them around the world, Lewis said.

Glenn Kohut, the vice president of corporate and business development for KOM Networks, said his company's file virtualization software, KOMworx, can create virtual storage volumes as large as 500 petabytes and can improve the performance of a storage subsystem by anywhere from "50 to 1,000 percent."

Using KOMworx, administrators can assign files requiring heavy applications to meatier storage systems while files such as Microsoft Word files can be allocated to slower systems. Allocation of files can also be expanded or contracted on the fly, across multi-vendor systems, without any end-user knowledge or intervention, he said.

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