Data Centers

Gain more space with file-level storage aggregation

With network storage costs at a premium, it is important for the IT manager to get as much out of the available server space as possible. Fortunately, 1Vision Software offers two products that allow you to extend your existing storage space further.

With the economy in its present condition, everyone is trying to do more with less. Nowhere is this truer than with network storage. It's important for organizations to lower storage-related costs while continuing to provide plenty of storage space to meet the organization’s needs. One trick is to aggregate free space on your server infrastructure to expand your storage capacity. In the past, this option has not been readily available. Now, however, there are a few products you can use to control your storage costs in this manner.

Messy storage
When I think of network storage, I am reminded of a manager that I used to work for. She was in charge of the networking department. Although she was an extremely nice person, she had one big problem as an administrator; she was deathly afraid to spend any money.

When the storage space on the server containing all of the user’s home directories started running low, rather than buying more storage space, she had her staff move users from certain departments to a different server. This meant transferring data and updating login scripts. Although my former boss avoided the expense of additional hard drives, she did incur expenses related to staff overtime. She also caused a significant amount of downtime for the users whose files were moved. Additionally, her technique caused a lot of confusion. After the switch, whenever I had to work on someone’s user account, I had to remember on which server his or her files were located.

At the time, the company only had about 300 employees. Over the next year though, that number steadily grew. My boss was still reluctant to spend any money, so she began creating home directories for the new users in any location where she could find space. Needless to say, the organization was a real mess. It wasn’t until she resigned that we were able to get a couple of new servers and consolidate all of the user’s home directories.

Aggregate storage
If this situation were to happen today, things wouldn’t necessarily have to get so messy. A company called 1Vision software makes a line of products that could have easily solved the problem. The products are called vSERV and vNAS, which aggregate storage at the file system level. So what does that mean? Think about the story above in which my former boss was scattering data all over the network, trying to take advantage of any available space. Typically, when a network begins to run low on space, each volume of each server will have a little bit of space available. If all of this available space were combined into a single volume, the volume might have a significant amount of space available. That’s exactly what vNAS and vSERV do. They logically link all of your servers together in a way that creates a single share point. Within that share point, users may view data residing on multiple servers without having to worry about which server the data actually resides on. Furthermore, the amount of free disk space that’s displayed is actually a cumulative estimate of the disk space scattered across all volumes. This disk space is as readily available as if it existed on a single volume. As you can see, this could allow you to put off buying additional storage for quite some time.

No need to move
Installing vNAS and vSERV allows you to consolidate available storage space and eliminates the user confusion associated with having files scattered all over the place. You may recall, however, that my former boss caused some other problems as well when she moved all of those files. Two of the problems that she caused were that she spent a lot of money on overtime for her staff during the move and the move resulted in a lot of downtime for the users. Both of these problems can be easily avoided with vNAS and vSERV. Had vNAS and vSERV been used in that situation, there would have been no reason to migrate any data. This would have eliminated user downtime and the overtime work for the networking staff.

Future needs
Obviously, consolidating server storage space into a single logical volume might allow you to put off purchasing additional servers or hard drives for a while. Eventually, though, you will burn up the rest of your remaining disk space and have to add more storage to the network.

When you do find yourself having to add additional storage to the network, you can do so with no disruption in service to your users. If your additional storage consists of a new server, simply install a copy of vNAS or vSERV onto the server, configure it, and you’re ready to go. There is no need to migrate files, and the additional storage space is available to your users immediately.

How does vSERV differ from DFS?
The first time that I read about vSERV, I thought that it sounded suspiciously like the Microsoft Distributed File System (DFS). However, there are a couple of differences in the ways that each of these tools works.

In a DFS environment, each folder off the root directory of the main DFS share point represents a share point on a server somewhere on your network. If users go into one of these folders and attempt to save data, they are limited to the space that is free on that server. This means that since different folders represent different share points that are often on different volumes, the amount of free disk space displayed by DFS differs from folder to folder. With vSERV though, the available disk space remains consistent regardless of location because vSERV is unifying the free disk space from across the various servers.

Another key difference between the two technologies is that DFS supports the use of replicas for scalability and fault tolerance. vSERV does not natively offer this feature.

Does vNAS and vSERV undermine Windows Security?
No, because all servers still run the NTFS file system and all users still have the same permissions to files and folders that they always have had. Windows still controls file security; vSERV and vNAS simply control file location.

What’s the difference between vNAS and vSERV?
vNAS and vSERV are two different products that work similarly. While both products do the exact same thing, vSERV is intended to run on Windows 2000 Servers and vNAS is designed to run on network-attached storage (NAS) devices. The pricing scheme is also different for the two products. A copy of vSERV costs $1,199. Each server requires a vSERV license. This version of vSERV supports an unlimited number of file servers and an unlimited amount of aggregate storage space. There is only one version of vNAS and it costs $699 per NAS device.

If you have smaller servers and a smaller budget, though, you should take a look at vSERV/LX. vSERV/LX also supports an unlimited number of servers, but allows a total aggregate storage space of 280 GB. A license for vSERV/LX costs $499, and each server requires a license. For users who want to start out with vSERV/LX and then upgrade to VSERV later, the company offers full credit toward the upgrade.


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