Why WAFS could be critical to performance

* Inside wide-area file services

As more companies consolidate data centers and serve applications from a central location, application performance on the WAN grows exponentially in importance.

How will applications perform when in demand from multiple branch locations? How will end users at remote offices gain access as though they were on the same LAN? These questions should be addressed when thinking about consolidation, and industry analysts say wide-area file services or systems (WAFS) may help IT managers resolve potential performance problems. Vendors such as Actona Technologies, Riverbed Technology, Signiant, and Tacit Networks provide products to help IT managers better deliver large files to remote offices.

According to a report by Forrester Research, WAFS try to eliminate data access delays by using technologies such as caching and bulk data transfer. In some cases, WAFS products can also anticipate requests to centralized files and offer read/write to remote sites.

But IT buyers need to consider a few factors before deciding if WAFS is right for them.

To start, Forrester says, protocol support must be taken into consideration. The research firm concludes, "WAFS must be storage-connection-protocol neutral" and advises shoppers to "reject any file-sharing products requiring dedicated connections or proprietary software."

Secondly, WAFS should feature file centralization. While a distributed model might be appealing, Forrester says, "distributed file sharing requires sophisticated support not yet practical in the pure distributed model." Plus centralizing files could reduce the complexity of backups and disaster recovery.

Next, consider performance and security. WAFS should tout speeds close to LAN speeds, Forrester says. And the product should also include an encryption option or other security features. Lastly, the research firm advises to choose a vendor with some staying power and long-term product roadmaps.

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