Product Reviews

Many Files Through a Single View

StorageX takes a global approach to streamlining file management.

When I first checked out StorageX, it looked like a branded version of Microsoft's Distributed File System. "Why use the free product, when I can spend thousands of dollars on something else?" I sarcastically thought to myself. After getting to know StorageX a little better, though, I realized that initial impression was way off base.

With Windows Distributed File System (DFS), you configure a single starting point for all network file access—the DFS root. You can also associate this with a single mapped drive for your users. The DFS root includes links to all other shared network resources, giving users and applications a single starting point. With a single, logical access point for network resources, you're free to move data to different physical locations on the network without impacting users.

Documentation 10%
Installation 10%
Feature Set 40%
Performance 30%
Management 10%
Overall Rating:

————————————————— MVP Award LogoReceiving a rating of 9.0 or above, this product earns the Redmond Most Valuable Product award.

1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

All you need to modify is the link at the DFS root that points to the physical location on the network. With DFS, you can also set up replicas for each DFS link, which lets you automatically provide for fault tolerance by having one logical link point to replicated data stored in two or more physical locations. Using redundant links also offers the following advantages:

  • You can take down file servers for maintenance without affecting users.
  • Run backups on a standby server that's a replication target in the DFS hierarchy, giving you greater flexibility with your backup window.
  • The network infrastructure is more resilient to system failure.

Much More Than DFS
The core operation of StorageX functions just like DFS, but StorageX offers much more. StorageX's adaptation of DFS starts with what's called the Global Namespace. The Global Namespace uses Microsoft's existing DFS technology and provides the same transparent access to shared files. Clients connecting to a network share are transparently redirected to an actual physical server.

Besides the file access, StorageX's management and reporting features are what really sold me. For starters, in the StorageX management user interface (UI), you can view your storage resources from a physical or logical perspective. The Logical View (see Figure 1) shows shared storage resources in the same tree format that connecting clients would. Physical View (Figure 2) lets you view and manage the physical storage topography.

Figure 1. StorageX Logical View.
Figure 1. The StorageX Logical View outlines your shared storage in an easily understandable format. (Click image to view larger version.)

Figure 2. StorageX Physical View.
Figure 2. The Physical View gives you a look at your storage topography, and provides management tools. (Click image to view larger version.)

Get It Started
Deploying StorageX was simple. I popped in the setup CD and installed the product on my designated DFS root server—that was it. Had I chosen to go with a second root server for fault tolerance, I would simply have to repeat the installation process.

StorageX supports both stand-alone and domain-based DFS roots, as well as Network Appliance Filer hosted roots. StorageX lets you logically organize all roots under a single Global Namespace. It supports configuring the DFS root on a server cluster as well, which was helpful.

My next task was to configure the DFS root. What especially impressed me here was that StorageX includes a "Namespace Creation Policy" feature. This automatically searches the network for shares and populates the namespace based on the shares it finds. If you have an existing DFS structure in place, there's no need to reinvent the wheel because StorageX can detect that, too. With StorageX finding so much on my test network, I was considering the possibility of using it in my garage to search for a few missing tools.

After running the relatively simple New DFS Root Wizard and a Namespace Creation Policy, I had my entire logical file system online and configured within a few minutes. Had I started from scratch and created brand-new file shares and a DFS hierarchy, I would've set up a folder tree under the Logical View portion of the UI. With the logical view in place, I would've added links to the physical servers on my network. The StorageX UI works just like Windows Explorer, making it easy to add folders and links to the Global Namespace.

I also liked the fact that my only software installation was on the root server. There were no agents to install on any other server on the network. The root server supports both CIFS and NFS shares, making it easy to link to both Windows and Unix/Linux file servers.

From Skeptic to Believer
StorageX's Administrative View (Figure 3) was a revelation. From here you can schedule replication jobs to run between replica links (folders with the same logical target, but with multiple physical locations), all without having to install any agents on the target systems.

Figure 3. StorageX Administrative View.
Figure 3. The Administrative View lets you schedule storage replication tasks. (Click image to view larger version.)

With the disaster recovery policies, you can have StorageX monitor a primary server and automatically fail over to a standby server when it detects failure. The product's Migration Policies let you physically move data from a server that's running out of space to another server. Once it completes the move, all links are automatically updated to reflect the new physical storage location. StorageX has an Archival Migration Policy that lets you archive files to alternate storage based on criteria such as last time accessed, size and age.

StorageX also has several reports you can schedule on a nightly, weekly or monthly basis. These reports provide details on functions like the status of nightly replication jobs, so you can quickly see if your replicated links were synchronized. The fact that software installed on one box lets you do all this while managing your file system storage across your network is quite impressive.

With such a positive experience managing file shares, I decided to see if StorageX could manage all of my data, in addition to shared CIFS and NFS file systems. To provide the end-to- end protection I'm looking for, StorageX would need to work with both file systems and databases; unfortunately, it doesn't. NuView representatives said database support was in the company's future plans.

The First Step to Recovery
The first step on the road to recovery is to admit that you have a problem in the first place. If your organization has an unmanageable assortment of file shares scattered about, you have a problem.

With that in mind, the logical file management view that StorageX presents can be just the therapy you need. Your users will no longer need to remember where a file is in order to access it. All they'll need to know is the location of the StorageX global namespace root, which you can automate by giving them a mapped drive, just like any other network share. With some thoughtfully considered management tools to back up a product that you can fully deploy within hours, StorageX helps you take steps toward simplicity. This is a breath of fresh air in a storage market that has become progressively more complex in recent years. Now, if StorageX could only find those missing tools in my garage ...

About the Author

Chris Wolf is VMware's CTO, Global Field and Industry.


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