Depends on what the definition of WAS is

Wide-area storage provides plenty of serious benefits. It lets companies protect data by storing it offsite in a location that's less likely than many headquarters to be a target for terrorists, hurricanes or earthquakes. It also provides the opportunity to house data in lower-cost real estate, leaving higher-cost real estate for locations in which humans need to interact.

You've been hearing a lot lately about wide-area storage. At the Network World Technology Tours on next-generation data center technology, I joked that the best place to locate a back-up facility is in South Dakota - unless, of course, your primary data center is already in South Dakota, in which case your back-up facility should be in North Dakota.

As I said, it was a joke - but WAS provides plenty of serious benefits. It lets companies protect data by storing it offsite in a location that's less likely than many headquarters to be a target for terrorists, hurricanes or earthquakes. It also provides the opportunity to house data in lower-cost real estate, leaving higher-cost real estate for locations in which humans need to interact. In short, WAS holds the promise of becoming a lynchpin of corporate information stewardship strategies.

As noted a few weeks ago, effective information stewardship requires understanding how to secure information and how to back it up and retrieve it efficiently - which typically involves mastering storage network technologies. That means understanding the unique constraints that storage places on the network.

Specifically, the network must deliver exceedingly low packet losses (less than 1%, according to research done at CNT); exceedingly low latencies (close to the speed of light in fiber, which is roughly 30 millisec across North America), and very high bandwidths (multigigabit speeds aren't uncommon).

Obviously the degree to which these constraints apply depends on how the remote storage is being used. Archiving imposes fewer constraints than, say, real-time disk access. Working around these limitations is what gives rise to the entire concept of information life-cycle management, whose fundamental idea is that you store information where you can most effectively (and cost effectively) get at it. Archival data, which is rarely if ever looked at, can be stored on tape. Data that's part of an active database needs to reside on disk - and if you're interested in having that data instantly available in case of an outage, it needs to be updated in real time.

In the old days - three to five years ago - many companies deployed Fibre Channel-over-SONET solutions for WAS. These days, though, the trend is toward IP, and in particular toward solutions that leverage existing IP networks to provide real-time access to data.

That's the vision behind the so-called wide-area file services (WAFS) arena, the newest entry in the WAS market. These boxes essentially cache data securely to provide real-time performance for remote data access. Examples include Cisco, which recently acquired Actona, one of the next-generation WAFS solutions; Signiant, which inked an OEM deal with EMC; and Tacit, which partners with IBM Europe. Other players include Disksites and Riverbed Technology. WAFS doesn't provide much redundancy, but these products make it possible to access a remote data center as though it were local.

There's a lot happening in this area - and it will continue to evolve.

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