Meeting the Challenge of File Sharing on a Global Scale

by Andrew Mullen on August 23, 2017

Global businesses have global data, and sharing that information throughout the organization can be a daunting task. Workers, wherever they may be located, need to be able to access, edit, and update files that may be created and stored at another company site half a world away. And executives depend on analyses of corporate-wide data in order to make vital decisions for the organization.

Yet, with mission-critical information scattered among a number of widely separated remote and branch office (ROBO) sites, making that data available to the organization as a whole in real time and without inconsistencies due to incompatible changes being made at different locations can involve major technical difficulties.

The case of the Zürich-based Swiss Reinsurance Group, or Swiss Re, provides a good example both of the challenges of global file sharing, and of how those challenges can be met.

The Challenges of Global File Sharing

Swiss Re is a global corporation that works with a world-wide client base. With offices in more than 25 countries throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the Swiss Re Group serves mid-to-large-sized corporations and public sector organizations around the globe. As a client-centered organization, Swiss Re has teams built around each client.

The challenge Swiss Re faced was to make data that was isolated at individual ROBO locations available across the corporation. In doing so they faced several obstacles that are characteristic of global distributed file systems. These include challenges in the following areas:

Providing concurrent global access to files

Perhaps the foremost challenge facing any global distributed file system is that of providing concurrent access to the same sets of information to users in different locations. When data is generated or modified at a remote site, by what mechanism will those changes be propagated across the entire organization so that other users are working with the same information?

Bandwidth limitations play a significant role here. If files must be transmitted to multiple nodes across a far-flung WAN in order to update each ROBO location, that will involve a lot of network traffic. Network bandwidth constraints can quickly become a bottleneck that severely limits the ability of the system to keep all user sites in sync with one another in real time.

Swiss Re initially addressed this issue by supplying users with access to Microsoft SharePoint files from all locations, but quickly found that solution inadequate to their needs.

Preventing data corruption due to clashing simultaneous changes

Once data is distributed to widely dispersed locations, it’s inevitable that on a fairly frequent basis multiple users will attempt to make different changes to their copies of the same file. At that point, it becomes very likely that inconsistencies between various versions of the same file will be introduced. As such disparate changes are propagated throughout the system, they can introduce data discrepancies that can only be remedied by painstaking, expensive, and error-prone human intervention.

For Swiss Re this problem eventually grew so severe that it became a show-stopper as users found themselves unable to reliably access Sharepoint files. Swiss Re reports that “when someone edited a large Excel file while another one tried to change a row in the same file, the system collapsed and users got frustrated.”

Overcoming performance issues due to latency effects

When a global file system suffers from the bandwidth and data consistency problems highlighted above, the result can be that the entire system slows down to the point where the user experience becomes extremely poor. This was the case with Swiss Re. In fact, they report that users became so frustrated that they eventually stopped even trying to share information with remote locations.

Overcoming the Challenges of Global File Sharing

Swiss Re found the remedy for its file sharing issues by adopting the Talon FAST™ software-defined storage (SDS) solution. Talon FAST™ is specifically designed to overcome the difficulties of file sharing on a global scale.

Talon FAST™ provides concurrent global access to files by consolidating all of an organization’s data, wherever it might be created or modified, into a single, centralized instance. When a particular file is accessed from a remote site, a copy of the active data is cached locally using Talon’s Intelligent File Caching engine. With this approach, remote files appear to users as though they are actually resident at their site.

When changes are made to the local cached copy of a file, only the differing data is transmitted back to the centralized instance. In addition, the Talon system has its own deduplication, compression, and streaming engine. Together, these features minimize the bandwidth required to keep the authoritative instance of the data updated in real time.

Talon FAST™ employs a global file locking mechanism to insure that simultaneous changes to the same data by different users cannot occur. Thus, the central instance of the data is never compromised by incompatible changes.

Talon FAST™ Meets The Global File Sharing Challenge

When Swiss Re learned of the features of the Talon FAST™ solution, they subjected the software to several stringent field tests. Their intent was to do all they could to “break” the product by subjecting it to various stress tests.

In one set of tests that included their Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangalore offices, Swiss Re reports that “the Talon FAST™ software demonstrat[ed] over 100% improvement in performance, which was far superior to our WAN optimization infrastructure.”

The Swiss Re IT Architect sums up their experience this way: “When we decided to evaluate the Talon FAST™ software, we soon found that the solution was easy to deploy, [and] presented a streamlined and elegant architecture that delivers required performance, stability and scalability.”

If you’d like to know more about how the Talon FAST™ solution can overcome your company’s global file sharing challenges, please watch this brief video to learn more about the Talon FAST™ solution.

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