New Cisco appliance consolidates backup

Cisco Systems last week unveiled a file-based data-sharing appliance that can consolidate management of distributed file and print services within branch offices and move the local backup function to a central data center.

The Cisco File Engine appliance uses the company's so-called wide-area file-services technology to create a single global namespace for file and print services over a WAN. The technology also uses caching algorithms to create LAN-like performance for data retrieval.

IT administrators can also use the 1U (1.75-in.-high) File Engine appliance to consolidate all branch-office data backup into central file servers in the main data centers, removing the need for local tape backup devices and administration at each remote location.

Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), a 700-person engineering firm in Watertown, Mass., purchased three File Engines and has submitted requests for 15 more in order to streamline file sharing among engineers in more than a dozen East Coast offices, said Greg Bosworth, manager of information technologies at the company.

Currently, VHB uses Windows 2000 file servers and local folders to document changes to engineering projects. The changes must be kept in order throughout the life of a project, which can last years. Archiving changes after the completion of a project is a time-consuming operation, according to Bosworth.

"Trying to have people keep documents in sync between offices is just a manual process right now," he said.

Keeping ownership and access under control has also been a challenge, Bosworth said. "The files are 10MB to 15MB or larger, and working with those over a T1 line is not practical," he said.

The File Engine controls access and addresses performance problems normally found with standard file-access protocols, such as Common Internet File System for Microsoft Windows environments and Network File System for Unix environments, over the WAN.

Peter Gerr, a senior research analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said remote file and print data management is a huge concern today, because up to 70 percent of a company's data resides in distributed offices.

"As data protection has become more important because of compliance, corporate governance and security, it's only natural for users to focus on data protection investments where they're most needed, and they're most needed out on the edge," Gerr said.

Cisco is competing against start-ups such as Tacit Networks, Riverbed Technology, Disksites and Expand Networks in the WAN file-sharing business. Some of those companies are optimizing network bandwidth, while Cisco and Tacit products reduce the amount of data moving through that pipe by sharing a single copy of a file and thus eliminating duplication.

The File Engines are priced at US$12,000 for up to 50 branch-office users and US$4,500 for additional 50-user license packs. The product is now shipping.

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