Bringing LAN-like file delivery to WANs

* A look at an increasingly popular technology, wide-area file services (WAFS)

Bringing LAN-like file delivery to WANs

By Deni Connor

Gold's Gym had been asking its network and end users to do some heavy lifting. End users trying to work together across 40 gyms and three corporate offices were using e-mail to exchange files and faced the challenge of keeping track of changes to different versions, as well, says Kurt Koenig, IT manager for the fitness company in Falls Church, Va.

But that system wasn't sustainable, Koenig says. He wanted to relocate files previously housed at each location to a centrally accessible data center in Columbia, Md. To make the transition, he turned to an increasingly popular technology called wide-area file services (WAFS), designed to provide LAN-like file delivery across WANs.

"We now have one G: drive with national access, so no matter where users are, they can get to their data quickly" he says.

Gold's is using a WAFS product from Availl Software, one of a number of vendors in this market, which also includes Brocade, Cisco and Swan Labs. WAFS products come in the form of software, which runs on file servers, and appliances.

WAFS works by reducing the "chattiness" of Microsoft's Common Internet File System (CIFS) and the Unix/Linux Network File System (NFS ) protocols. It also works by decreasing the latency of WAN communications by eliminating much of the round-trip traffic caused by opening and closing files. CIFS and NFS were designed to work in LAN environments where latency is low.

"The CIFS and NFS file protocols are extraordinarily chatty," says John Henze, director of product marketing for the Caching Services Business Unit at Cisco. "These files consist of hundreds and hundreds of synchronous, short byte-length messages that go back and forth before any payload is actually sent, causing high latency and low throughput. This differs from on the LAN where you have virtually no latency."

For more on WAFS, how it works, what its benefits are and more, go to:

Deni Connor is a Senior Editor at Network World covering storage, Unix, Novell, Macintosh and IT in Healthcare. You can reach her at

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