F5 Networks has launched an operating system update for its ARX series of file virtualisation devices - essentially, smart file servers.

It's also launching a management platform for file virtualisation networks. Both are aimed helping datacentre and storage admins improve the way that complex systems are set up and managed, and are the product of F5's acquisition of Acopia Networks in September 2007.

File virtualisation is the use of an abstraction layer to decouple access to files from the physical location of those files; it acts as a proxy to federate file systems that are already in place on the underlying storage layer. This means that storage changes are hidden from clients.

Claimed benefits include simpler access to data, optimised use of existing storage resources, and the ability to share files across heterogeneous storage devices. File virtualisation also gives the flexibility to change file storage platforms to meet changing business and IT requirements.

F5 said the new product, catchily dubbed Acopia FreedomFabric Network Operating System Software Version 3.0, allows the automation of many storage management tasks and the elimination of disruptions associated with those tasks. The claimed benefit is that enterprises can improve the efficiency of their unstructured file data management.

According to F5, highlights of the new offering includes virtual snapshots, which are replicas of data as it existed at a specific point in time across multiple file systems from multiple vendors.

Other features offered by the new NOS include scheduled data migration from moving entire file systems to individual files, storage tiering which automates the placement and movement of data between different tiers (or classes) of storage according to a range of criteria, data replication for availability purposes, and load balancing, which allows enterprises to create larger "virtual file servers" from existing file storage devices, aggregating the resources - such as capacity, throughput, and processing power - of these physical devices and optimising application performance.

F5 described its new management platform, F5 Acopia FreedomFabric Network Manager, as delivering the industry’s first independent management platform for intelligent file virtualisation networks. Running on an industry standard server, the software allows the management of policies across multiple distributed file virtualisation systems in large enterprises. F5 claimed the benefits are that it simplifies deployment and operations, reduces errors, and lowers operational costs.

“IT professionals are really starting to see the benefits of infrastructure virtualisation at every level. With the addition of F5’s Acopia File Virtualisation services, IT professionals finally have the ability to really harness all the power of virtualisation - from servers to data. Adding Acopia has made F5’s network virtualisation service offerings among the most complete in the entire industry,” said Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

“Once in production, it became obvious to us that we should leverage F5 Acopia virtualisation across our entire datacentre environment,” said Stephen R O’Neill, vice president of Technology, Oversee Domain Services. “For Oversee, the F5 Acopia solution has simplified data management and helped keep our budget in check. This new functionality means we won’t have to manage separate filers and individual snapshots. I will now have unified access across all my systems - making life that much easier.”