Just say no to remote storage?

Companies of all sizes struggle to back up information stored at remoteoutposts - sales and support offices that are generally small operationswithout on-site IT support.

One supplier thinks it's come up with an answer to this age-old dilemma:eliminate the problem by consolidating all information in corporate HQand then providing high-speed access over a WAN.

DiskSites Inc., a startup based in Santa Clara, Calif., claims that itsW-NAS product lets remote users read and write data in an off-siteserver just as quickly as they could with a local server. Part of howthe product accomplishes this is through compression, and part is atechnology called two-way differential transfer. Put simply, this meansthat the product only sends or receives the portion of the file that'schanged since last it was written or requested.

Say, for example, you're working on a typical Word file, which may haveonly 600K of information but can "grow" to over 1M-byte because theapplication saves phantom copies in case you make a mistake and need toretrieve an older copy. Instead of sending all of the file, W-NASextracts only what's changed, compresses that, and sends it over a WANto the data center for storage on a central server.

By definition, this product is meant for large companies - those with atleast 20 branch offices - because "that's where the pain starts,"according to Bob Gilbert, director of product marketing at DiskSites.

The vendor, originally based in Israel and with its R&D operation stillthere, is targeting organizations where logistics, and the number ofremote offices, make it impossible to do backup on a regular basis. "Youmight be able to use Veritas to do tape backup," Gilbert says, "but youstill have the problem of having to have the tape backup infrastructureat every location. If you have 100 offices, you need 100 servers. That'sa monumental task."

Gilbert claims that most companies will be able to hit ROI in three tosix months. He also claims that the product is "non-disruptive" both interms of implementation and actual usage. It involves installing aFileCache appliance at each branch office, and then a FilePort applianceat the data center. When you order one, it comes bundled with commodityhardware of your choosing - Dell, HP or IBM.

Although Gilbert says he uses the product every day to work on filesstored in his company's Israel office, the "benchmarks" that DiskSitesprovides are inconclusive, to my mind. The vendor compares working withfiles over a "straight" WAN vs. working over a WAN using theirtechnology. And of course you can guess which set of numbers is better.

That might well be true, but I'd be more interested in benchmarks thatcompare storage over a WAN (with their technology) vs. storage via LAN(local files and server). After all, that is what they're purporting toreplace.

In the meantime, there are several pilots going on that Gilbert couldn'tyet discuss in-depth. One pilot customer has 700 branch offices, andanother has a couple of thousand. Target markets include financialservices, government and HMOs. Pricing is according to the number ofusers in the enterprise.

Different companies are nibbling at the remote-storage problem fromdifferent directions. It will be interesting to see which wins the day.

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