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Creating a Complex Mesh in Your File Store

Global File Systems use two basic architectures to leverage the cloud and provide file access across multiple locations. One is a hub-and-spoke model with the cloud as the hub. In this case, every location and mobile device becomes an endpoint connecting directly to that hub, and all communication between devices and offices happens through the cloud. The other approach places more emphasis on the endpoint devices and leverages the cloud for storage and protection, while conducting all communication related to coordination, metadata and file locking through the corporate network.

Each of these designs has benefits and drawbacks, and the ideal system depends on the particular use case. But one potential hazard to avoid is creating a complex mesh in your file store.

The endpoint-centric system works well for organizations with a small number of locations and limited collaboration between these locations. One flaw in this design is the fact that every office has to talk to every other office, which adds excess chatter to the corporate network. Each location stores all the available file metadata for the company, which means that anytime the metadata changes for a given file, those changes need to propagate throughout the network to all the sites. Monitoring information is bouncing around the network, too. Then you have to add in the load resulting from the coordination of the global file locks that ensure two people aren’t writing to the same file at once – a potential problem detailed in my previous post.

Given only a few locations, the network can often handle this chatter without difficulty. If a business has three offices, each office only has to communicate over the network with two others. But consider scaling up to five sites. Each location now has to communicate with four others, and the network topology becomes a complex mesh. All the file system information bouncing from site to site strains resources and impacts the performance of other systems, including basic network communications. Suddenly your file storage solution isn’t solving IT problems. It’s creating them.

“But now the hub is the cloud – a resilient, reliable, durable and georedundant combination of the most advanced data centers in the world.”

There are ways around the flaws in this mesh topology. It is possible to use tools that prune the mesh down so every office isn’t talking to every other location. But this has to be managed manually. Often IT has to connect to each location to configure the boxes, then track which offices are talking to each other in case there are organizational changes that demand a restructuring of the mesh. Finally, the metadata is already distributed across all these offices, so pruning that mesh creates a metadata copying issue that is not easy to resolve.

The major flaw of the hub-and-spoke design is that it puts so much emphasis on the hub. Traditionally this was a problem because the hub was a single office or corporate data center that had to scale and could be vulnerable to hardware failures or disasters. But now the hub is the cloud – a resilient, reliable, durable and georedundant combination of the most advanced data centers in the world.

The cloud-as-hub has the additional benefit of protecting performance, capacity and bandwidth at the endpoints. All the added communications-related load of a global file system shifts away from the corporate network and local hardware and into the cloud. The only added strain is on the bandwidth to the Internet, which is kept to a minimum through deduplication and other techniques. With this method, end users enjoy the fast file access and network performance they expect.

Finally, cloud storage is built to scale. Companies looking to bring four, five or even many more offices under the same file storage, protection and access solution can do so without increasing latency or impacting the corporate network. Nasuni is built on this cloud-centric hub-and-spoke model, and we designed the technology to ensure that the delay stemming from communication with the cloud is consistently minimal at any scale. In addition to a full set of Enterprise File Services, our clients enjoy fast, predictable performance regardless of the number of offices or mobile devices. When one of our clients expands or acquires another business, the new location simply becomes another spoke attached to the secure, cloud-based hub.

The endpoint-centric design can work well for a small number of locations, but if your business is built to scale, then your enterprise file storage solution should be as well.