David Jones, Njini's CEO, is a decided fan of File Area Networks (FANs). He is bullish about the future of the concept and answered some questions about Njini's involvement with and approval of the FAN concept.
TW: What does the FAN concept mean to Njini?
DJ: Enterprise storage today is like an iPod on steroids It's a phenomenally expensive disk drive. That is because there is a very tight integration of management and control with the basic data on the disk. The expense is to do with the whole iTunes experience.
If you could split the two then iPod device prices would fall. The real value is in the software. A FAN in its essence liberates the underlying disk infrastructure from the management and control of files.
Storage today is pretty much managed at the block level. But blocks have to be assembled into files before business value can be associated with the data.
TW: Where is Njini in the FAN concept?
DJ: We're in the (file) management and control piece. We are transparent to users. The files could be stored on a SAN, on NAS, on single or multiple vendors' storage arrays. That's not where we are. We're the brains within the FAN.
Brocade, Acopia and Microsoft provide virtualisation and a global namespace that abstracts the physical storage infrastructure and provides services to move files from one spot to another. Using the iPod analogy again this is like a file sync.
They don't provide intelligence or policies to take more sophisticated actions like, with another iPod analogy, building a play list. Njini provides this layer of intelligence to a FAN. We see ourselves playing in the FAN management and control infrastructure, abstracting information about files, writing policies, reporting on activities.
We also do some of the namespace stuff but with the FAN arrival it will be provided by others and we'll focus on the management issues.
TW: Tell us about the FAN working group.
DJ: It has several members: Acopia; Njini; Brocade; Microsoft; EMC; HP; and IBM. Its aim is to bring a level of agreement and understanding to the FAN concept. Once we have this we'll submit it to an industry standards body, the SNIA maybe - a very good candidate - and take it from there.
At the recent winter SNIA symposium in San Jose there was a birds of a feather session with the FAN group.
We're trying to bring a level of understanding to the market. We all do things a little differently at present and, really, we cancel each other out. If we can agree what we do within a FAN marketecture and say how things will work together then the FAN working group can say a FAN consists of agreed components and the SNIA (or other standards body) can say this in a global way. We agree definitions and so move the whole FAN idea forward and benefit customers.
David Jones reckons the working group is small enough to be nimble and move quickly and yet balanced with heavyweight suppliers like Microsoft, EMC and HP balancing the lightweights as he termed Njini, Acopia and (not so appropriately) Brocade. Certainly Brocade (and the Taneja Group) has been popularising the FAN idea energetically with Acopia and Njini helping enthusiastically.
EMC has its Rainfinity file virtualisation technology. HP has just served notice it is buying PolyServe, a supplier of high-end NAS technology. IBM has a OEM deal with NetApp and Microsoft is strong in network-attached storage (NAS). Their collective interest in helping a FAN marketecture come to fruition is clear and the working group is working on the principle of a rising tide lifts all boats.
Njini is in a strong position as it stakes out a role in the FAN management and control layer which it says is differentiated from the other working group members. Brocade may well say differently but it doesn't have Njini's file metadata generation capabilities.
Because the FAN idea is a marketecture it is not under-pinned by defined engineering and technologies as both storage area networks (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) are. To that extent it is less substantial and depends upon the working group suppliers persuading other interested file technology suppliers - Hitachi Data Systems, Isilon, Network Appliance, Sun and others - to step forward and start using the same FAN vocabulary and concepts to describe their offerings.