According to Transarc Corp, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based IBM Corp subsidiary, enterprise file systems represent a huge potential market for 1997. The company maintains that it is ideally positioned to exploit the forthcoming bonanza with its Distributed File System software. The software industry is always on the lookout for the next big thing liable to generate […]
According to Transarc Corp, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based IBM Corp subsidiary, enterprise file systems represent a huge potential market for 1997. The company maintains that it is ideally positioned to exploit the forthcoming bonanza with its Distributed File System software. The software industry is always on the lookout for the next big thing liable to generate millions of dollars in revenue and also hopefully relieve some technical headaches at the same time. Transarc believes it already has such a goldmine and remedy in its backyard in the shape of its distributed global file system software, DFS, for Distributed File System. The company also reckons that with DFS, it already enjoys a sizable lead on any competitors, leaving the likes of Microsoft Corp, Novell Inc and Sun Microsystems Inc yet to take up their starting positions on the race to facilitate the enterprise wide sharing of information.
By Clare Haney
The initial seeds that led to DFS were sown back in the early 1980s at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Academics there, working in tandem with IBM, came up with a software solution to enable the university’s 10,000 students and faculty members to share information, security and good performance across their network. The software, which was turned into a full blown product in 1990, was christened the AFS Andrew File System in honor of the university’s founders, Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon. Then in 1989, under the guidance of Alfred Spector, a professor of computer science and director of the joint CMU-IBM Information Technology Center, the university realized it had the opportunity with AFS, not only to carry out information sharing within its own operation, but also to extend it out across other enterprises. It hooked up via the Internet with a number of other academic centers, including the University of Michigan, to embrace a global sharing community of 50,000 members. That same year, Spector took the research out of the lab and founded Transarc, where he is currently president and chief executive. The company, together with Digital Equipment Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, IBM and Siemens-Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, was then involved in crafting the original distributed computing proposal submitted to the Open Software Foundation – now part of the Open Group along with X/Open – which became the basis for the DCE Distributed Computing Environment standard. DFS, the successor to AFS, was then adapted from DCE and first appeared as a Transarc product in 1990. In addition to the enterprise file sharing arena, Transarc, acquired by IBM in September 1994 for an undisclosed sum, has its fingers in three other major pies – transaction processing with its Encina TP monitor, distributed computing and asynchronous messaging. Lining up to compete with DFS are three vendors. The most established player is Sun with its NFS Network File System, followed by Novell Inc with elements of its NetWare operating system. The relative newcomer to the field, as of late last year, is Microsoft Corp with Distributed File System, or DFS. And yes, IBM has politely asked Redmond to stop using its trademark – capitalized or not. The Microsoft product, obviously, has it all to prove, but analysts are impressed by its file namespace structure and its security, although true to form, it only supports Microsoft operating systems on the client and server side. Both the Sun and Novell offerings come from the local area network space, whereas Transarc argues that DFS was designed from the outset for wide area network installations. Sun’s NFS is already installed on more than 10 million servers and runs on most systems, apart from Windows NT. However, it doesn’t scale well and, as yet, has no support for administration, replications and security. Where Novell’s NDS NetWare Directory Services falls down is that its server support is limited to NetWare, although Novell estimates that there are more than 15 million NDS users and that it has shipped over 20,000 NDS software development kits. So far, DFS has yet to set the world on fire. Spector says that it is presently used in a couple of hundred significant sites, the largest being the US Forest Service and IBM’s development laboratories in Austin, Texas. Both operations number more than a thousand DFS clients. But support is growing for the product. Already Cray Research Inc Digital, Hewlett-Packard Co and IBM frequently ship the product with their high-end operating systems. Also, in an attempt to beat the drum for DFS, a joint IBM Transarc Software sales force several hundred strong will shortly have files systems as their primary focus. As another fillip, Transarc already has a highly DFS-friendly analyst report under its belt, courtesy of Boston, Massachusetts-based Patricia Seybold Group. The report concludes: Overall, DFS features for distributed computing environments make it the optimal choice for a distributed file system. The report mentions that as yet DFS has no NT server, but that Transarc has promised to ship one during the first half of this year. The software already has OS/2, Unix and IBM mainframe clients, along with Unix, IBM mainframe and Cray supercomputer servers. Native Windows 95 and NT clients can already access DFS via a LAN Manager gateway using Transarc’s DFS-Light software, introduced in August 1996. DFS for the Web. Another flavor of the software is DFS Web which should be shipping very soon. This additional piece of code integrates the file level security capabilities of DFS with standard Web servers, so that users can administer very large scale Web services using DFS as the storage substrata for all data on servers. DFS Web enables secure data access to the Web, explains Spector. That’s unique today. All the security metrics in DFS Web extend the security of DFS out to the browser. DFS is a global storage system that spans the world. You can put Web servers on any machine. The only major criticism the Seybold report highlights is DFS’s administrative overhead. Spector concedes that this is a problem. DFS doesn’t look pretty to administer at the moment. We’re working on putting in very fancy graphical user interface for administration. We believe in simplifying the management of the system. Other new features on the horizon for DFS include support for Java, integration with IBM’s Tivoli subsidiary’s system management software and a mechanism for tertiary storage due to launch later this year. You’ll gradually see us embracing the LDAP protocol and public key encryption in DFS, with our overall focus on usability for low-level users, says Spector.
From Software Futures, February 1997.