"FAN is where SAN was six years ago," Schultz today told searchstorage.com.au, before IDC analyst Graham Penn predicted the new technique would be the next big thing in storage.
Like a SAN, a FAN is not embodied by a single product.
Instead, FANS involve a combination of a local storage appliance, WAN switching and optimisation technologies, a wide area file system, an enterprise-wide namespace and associated software to allow interoperability.
When implemented, a FAN sees remote offices dispense with on-site file storage, instead turning to a local storage appliance that caches the most-used local files and communicates with a central storage facility that stores the majority of a business' data. The central repository includes unstructured files and block data generated by enterprise applications, with the former now stored in an environment where backup, compliance and other chores can be performed with all the rigour and sophistication offered by data centre technologies instead of relying on weaker and less reliable technology and processes found in branch offices.
Schultz touted compliance and backup as the most important benefits of the FAN approach, with the opportunity to streamline and consolidate the resources required to achieve these outcomes another expected improvement.
He added that he believes the technique is complementary to other efforts aimed at taming the proliferation of unstructured files such as document management or knowledge management software.
"It is not 'either/or,'" he said. "The two are complementary, or FAN can be an enabler."
"But most businesses are not doing knowledge management," a fact he hopes will see the FAN approach adopted to help address the issue of unstructured files.
"Today a Chief Information Officer or a Chief Executive Officer can find it hard to guarantee that their data is adequately and verifiably backed up," Schultz said. "By centralising backup to a central site, FAN takes that worry away."
To date, Schultz said local adoption of Brocade's FAN-enabling products are limited to a bank, a large manufacturer and a federal government department.
None has yet deployed every element of a FAN, but IDC's Penn said he believes adoption will commence in earnest in 2008, with production FANs becoming prevalent by 2008.
Schultz added that he expects the product will reach maturity in five to six years, by which time FAN will be as common as SAN.