How Companies Are Modernizing Their Approach To Data Storage

by Shirish Phatak on October 26, 2017

As applications today become bigger, more complex, and more data-intensive, companies are having to change their approach to data storage. This is especially true for organizations that have become national or global in their scope. In these businesses more and more of their operations are now taking place in remote and branch offices (ROBOs). In fact, about half of all corporate employees now work at ROBO sites rather than in main office locations. And that’s the source of an ever more urgent challenge for storage administrators.

The ROBO IT Challenge

Most corporate IT administrators name ROBO IT as a significant issue for their organizations. Remote office operations present several operational challenges that have proven very difficult to overcome.

The first and perhaps most pressing of these relates to data that’s generated and used in remote locations. This information may be critical to the mission of the company, and the amount of it that’s being produced on a daily basis is rising at a rapid pace. The issue administrators face is how to get all that information to the various locations in the organization where it’s needed.

For example, it’s not unusual for a company to have work teams in Los Angeles or Nashville that need to collaborate in real time, using a common pool of data, with other teams in London, Zurich, or Nairobi. But from a practical perspective, providing global access to ROBO data is not easy. Information that is generated at one remote site is effectively isolated from other locations by the difficulties of transmitting large amounts of data over bandwidth-limited networks. Because changes made at one location cannot be quickly propagated to others, severe data consistency issues can arise as incompatible changes to the same datasets are made in different locations. When that happens, each ROBO site can end up having its own unique version of what is presumed to be a common set of data.

Limitations on the speed with which large datasets can be transmitted across a corporate WAN or to the cloud also contribute to latency issues that may cause system response times to slow to the point where they become extremely frustrating to users, and substantially diminish productivity.

Providing IT support for ROBOs can also be a difficult task. When each branch office has its own local file servers and data storage, corporate IT administrators must arrange for those assets to be properly managed at each location. Issues such as capacity planning, network administration, data backup/restore, and disaster recovery require expert attention at the local level. Yet remote locations typically don’t have IT specialists on site. In many cases these critical responsibilities are taken on by employees whose main responsibilities lie elsewhere, and who have little specialized training in the technologies they are asked to manage.

IT administrators have used several different approaches to solve the ROBO IT problem. One popular approach, for example, has been the attempt to speed up data communications through network optimization strategies or the use of network accelerators. Another widely used tactic is the employment of VDI (Virtual Desktop Interface) technology, in which only mouse clicks and keystrokes are transmitted across the network. Various Document Management System (DMS) solutions have also been employed. But as file set sizes continue to grow and applications become more complex, these solutions have all proven to be inadequate. The latencies introduced by network bandwidth limitations resulted in system response times that are simply unacceptably low.

How Talon Meets the ROBO IT Challenge

In light of the fact that propagating large amounts of data from each ROBO to all the other sites is simply not practical, most IT administrators have recognized that the answer lies with maintaining a single, centralized, and authoritative instance that incorporates all the organization’s data, wherever it might be generated or changed.

In such a system information generated or modified at ROBO sites is immediately incorporated into the centralized dataset instance. Users, wherever they may be located, access the single authoritative dataset rather than data that remains resident at their location. That approach eliminates data consistency issues, since the view of the data users are presented with is always up to date, and there’s no opportunity for inconsistent changes to be made at different locations.

Conceptually, the data consolidation approach is ideal. But to make such a solution practical requires the implementation of some very sophisticated technology. And that’s exactly what Talon Storage has done.

Talon FAST™ is a software-defined storage (SDS) application that makes it possible for an organization to consolidate all its data, wherever that data may originate, and which allows users all around the world to safely access and modify that data in near real time. Talon FAST™ does this by employing ground-breaking technologies that directly address ROBO IT issues.

Intelligent File Caching

The first challenge that must be addressed is the network bandwidth issue, since changes at remote locations must be propagated to the central location, and then throughout the system, in near real time. Given the huge amounts of data involved, transmitting entire datasets back and forth is simply not practical.

Instead, Talon relies on its intelligent file caching technology. In this approach, only data that is actively being used is cached at remote locations. Users interact with this cached information exactly as if it were stored on their local servers. When changes are made, delta differencing techniques are used to send only the changes back to the central location, where they are immediately incorporated into the authoritative dataset instance. Data compression is also employed to further reduce the amount of data that must be carried on the network. Plus, an integrated purging mechanism removes the least recently used data from the cache over time.

Talon FAST™ also reduces the amount of storage that must be maintained at ROBO locations to a minimum. Jaap van Duijvenbode, Product Director at Talon, notes that the time a dataset at a remote location remains active is usually no more than 60 to 90 days. “Why provision storage in each ROBO for data that isn’t touched in months or years?” he asks.

The reduction in the amount of storage required at remote sites can be substantial. Jaap van Duijvenbode gives the following example:

“You could have 100TB at your datacenter, of which 10-20TB is active data for the whole environment, but you may have a ROBO that only needs 1TB of storage on a Windows server to carve out their active dataset partition for their intelligent file cache. Because you are only caching the active dataset, you reduce your storage footprint by 100x for that ROBO.”

Global File Locking

Talon FAST™ incorporates a global file locking mechanism that prevents concurrent changes to the same dataset. Whenever a change is initiated to cached data at one location, that file is immediately locked against editing at all other locations until the change is completed, transmitted back to the central location, and incorporated into the authoritative dataset instance. Thus, data consistency errors due to simultaneous incompatible changes to the same dataset are eliminated.

Will the Talon Solution Work For You?

In deciding whether Talon FAST™ is the solution they need in order to address their ROBO IT issues, many customers ask questions like the following:

  • How does it fit into my existing environment?
  • How do I manage it?
  • Do I need to train my staff differently, since it’s a proprietary solution?
  • Do I need to go into cloud, or can I hook the Talon FAST™ solution into my existing distributed or centralized file storage infrastructure?

The great thing about Talon’s solution is that it fits into any kind of environment, whether on premises, in the cloud, or a combination of both. Because the Talon FAST™ software is built on the SDS/HCI (Hyperconverged Infrastructure) model, it not only integrates smoothly into your existing virtualization strategy, but can help you to substantially enhance that strategy.

Talon FAST™ is storage agnostic. That means it works with the storage you already have, whether in your data center, at a ROBO, or in the cloud. The fact that it does not lock customers into any particular storage solution makes Talon unique in the market.

Because Talon FAST™ acts merely as a cache for your active datasets, it can transparently fit into your existing storage strategy regarding issues such as capacity planning, backup/restore, and disaster recovery. If you lose data at a ROBO location it can always be recovered from the central data instance. All data management is done at the central location. That’s where you do backup/restore, authorizations, and permissions. There is no need to maintain a dedicated backup or disaster recovery regime at remote sites.

Talon FAST™ also provides a high level of storage management simplicity and flexibility. Designed for a Microsoft-centric environment (which includes 99.9 percent of ROBO installations), Talon FAST™ runs on Windows Server 2016 or Windows Server 2016 Core. It fully integrates with your existing Microsoft ecosystem, including ADDS, DNS/DHCP. Print Services, and SCCM. No additional staff training is required.

Not only does Talon FAST™ fit into your existing storage architecture today, but it also positions you to move seamlessly toward hybrid cloud or public cloud storage solutions tomorrow. That’s one of the greatest benefits of the Talon approach.

The Talon Solution Works For Both Large Enterprises and SMBs

Although larger enterprises and SMBs (small and medium sized businesses) often have somewhat different concerns regarding their storage solutions, Talon FAST™ was designed with both in mind.

Enterprises with large IT staffs that give them a degree of self-sufficiency, typically want to maintain maximum control over the various components of their IT infrastructure. For example, they often want to be able to closely control their disaster recovery approach in order to achieve specific RPO and RTO targets.

Because Talon FAST™ is a Windows Server-based SDS/HCI solution that integrates seamlessly into an existing IT environment, it does not add any levels of hidden complexity at an enterprise data center or ROBO. It is designed for enterprises with 10 sites or more that want to streamline their storage while maintaining the ability to manage their systems at a granular level.

SMBs, on the other hand, are often looking for less expensive integrated solutions that don’t require high levels of technical expertise to implement and maintain. With its simplified storage management and its integration into the familiar Microsoft ecosystem, Talon FAST™ is a natural fit for smaller organizations. And the fact that the Talon solution can seamlessly bridge the gap between today’s legacy storage systems and the hybrid or public cloud storage solutions that are fast becoming the norm is a particularly important benefit for SMBs.

The Talon Advantage

Talon FAST™ provides a storage solution that transparently integrates into today’s ROBO IT and corporate data center environments, but which is also ready for the future. It requires no additional training and can be implemented on physical or virtual MS Windows Servers literally in minutes. It is zero-touch, streamlined, and can scale up to hundreds of ROBO sites. Plus, by drastically reducing the ROBO storage footprint, it can yield substantial reductions in IT costs.

If you’d like to explore how Talon FAST™ can help your company modernize its approach to storage, you can start by watching this brief Talon FAST video.

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