SmartAdvice: Follower Or Pioneer, X64's Time Is Near

Look at what programs you'll be running and how long you expect to keep the hardware when deciding when to start buying 64-bit PCs and servers, The Advisory Council says. Also, vendors are developing self-healing wide-area file services for delivering data on a wide-area network.
Question B: What better alternatives are there to Windows file sharing and Unix NFS for use on wide-area networks?

Our advice: Managed data storage is essential to any business. As companies globalize their workforce, while at the same time consolidating data-center functions, users need to access business data that could be located anywhere in the world. Users just want critical information delivered quickly and transparently, whenever and wherever they are connected. In response to this need, data-storage vendors are developing wide-area file services (WAFS) that are optimized for delivering data in a wide-area network environment. The advantages of WAFS are truly self-healing data systems, more flexible data resource allocation, and improved options for business continuity.

Historically, most file systems were designed to work optimally with local disks, so they often are annoyingly slow in the networked environment in which most people now work. In response, several vendors are developing protocols and products to replace the aging Unix Network File System (NFS) and Microsoft Common Internet File System (CIFS). Both NFS and CIFS were originally developed for local-area network environments, so they have serious security and performance issues when used in a WAN setting.

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A number of vendors, including Cisco Systems (which entered the market by purchasing Actona in 2004), Riverbed Technology, and Tacit Networks, are developing the underlying compression and acceleration technology necessary to efficiently share data over WAN connections. The major network-attached storage and storage-area network vendors are scrambling to integrate WAFS into their product suites as a solution to serving branch offices and smaller sites from centralized data centers. These are still expensive, first-generation products which don't have all the bugs worked out. As the technology matures over the next year or two, there will be a push to create protocol standards. For now, however, since the technology is still in its infancy, the vendors are offering proprietary solutions, sold as a combination of storage hardware and software to manage file access over the network.

The need for faster and more reliable delivery of data files in WAN environments will be driving the development of new standards over the next few years. In the meantime, for companies that need a WAN-based storage solution, several major vendors offer proprietary products which can provide access to cost-effective, managed, and protected central storage from branch offices.

--Beth Cohen

Peter Schay, TAC executive VP and chief operating officer, has 30 years of experience as a senior IT executive in IT vendor and research industries. He most recently was VP and chief technology officer of SiteShell Corp. Previously at Gartner, he was group VP of global research infrastructure and support, and launched coverage of client-server computing in the early 1990s.

Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.