How to use a Global File System to transform cloud storage into a real-time collaboration platform

The current perception of cloud storage begins and ends as a cheap repository for bits, but cloud storage is much more than that.

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter’s approach.

The current perception of cloud storage begins and ends as a cheap repository for bits, but cloud storage is much more than that. With a Global File System implemented using the cloud as the storage fabric that connects high-performance storage controllers at the edge of a business network, the cloud becomes an resource that facilitates global collaboration between project teams that work with latency and bandwidth sensitive applications. The cheap repository of bits becomes an enabling technology, and the Global File System makes all distributed offices truly appear as one single office.

The term Global File System is thrown around loosely these days, but many vendors who claim to provide an enterprise-grade Global File System don’t provide global locking. File locking became needed to prevent two or more users from writing to the same file when the industry moved from direct attached storage to shared storage. Its no different when multiple users try to access the same file with cloud storage.

To guarantee the safety of files, cloud-based global file systems place an even higher reliance on file locking than traditional LAN-based environments. Without global file locking technology in place, chaos and file corruption occur whenever employees from multiple locations access and collaborate on the same files over a cloud-based storage system.

While early cloud tools made it easy for a single user or application to write and edit data in the cloud, they didn’t provide file sharing and file locking protections for multi-user access to these same files. That’s why the first solutions for integrating cloud storage with a corporate network were purpose-built cloud storage gateways that made it simple to back up and archive data to the cloud.

But cloud gateways need not be limited to backup and archive workloads. After all, passing read and write requests from a single controller to the cloud is not very hard to do; just look at the dozens of cloud gateway solutions that already accomplish this. Cloud gateways are just a point solution and enterprises need something more than a single gateway connected to the cloud if they are to use cloud storage successfully as an enterprise storage solution.

A Global File System has the ability to connect every user, at locations around the world, with a single consistent shared file system. Using tightly connected globally-distributed storage controllers, along with file storage in the cloud, this exciting new technology provides a single consistent shared file system with global reach.

By employing a Global File System, users in multiple sites are able to share files and collaborate on projects in real-time.

With a Global File System in place, each user has local LAN-speed access to the shared cloud storage and each controller is just one part of the global solution. But these same users who access files from one controller must be able to trust that they can access and edit files without colliding with users on other controllers and causing file corruption.

File access permissions and file locking must be shared among all the controllers that take part in the Global File System. As long as file-locking and file permissions are shared in real time then collaboration is possible between multiple users. A Global File System combined with real-time Global File Locking provides a true enterprise solution for shared cloud storage. With real-time Global File Locking, applications can utilize cloud storage because the file locks will be honored and key application data will be protected.

Global File Systems that don’t offer real-time file locking technology are forced to provide creative alternative file locking solutions. However, none of these alternate solutions have proven adequate for enterprise global file sharing and collaboration.

One approach replicates file locks asynchronously between controllers or through the cloud. Asynchronous replication causes massive latency for users who want to edit the same project files from multiple sites as they cannot access the file until the file lock replication is complete. Other file locking approaches offer only local locking within each controller. When multiple users attempt to edit the same file from separate sites, each user gets a separate copy of the file to edit. Organizations then must dedicate an employee to the task of merging the files back together again manually. Neither of these alternative solutions is acceptable for enterprise storage.

The emergence of Global File Systems, using cloud as a storage fabric, has necessitated the implementation of file locking over the WAN just as NAS required file locking over the LAN. File locking technology then enables a consistent, enterprise-class global file system. With global file locking technology, cloud storage is transformed into a powerful tool for effective collaboration between users located in sites around the country and also around the world. As business becomes more and more distributed across different locations, global file locking is the key to making users feel like they are in the same office even if they are located in different parts of the world.

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