Creative Commons: Kossy

Have you ever began boarding an airplane and thought to yourself, "Wow, this plane is huge… and it's about to fly through the air? How crazy is that?" To make myself feel better I like to see the man or women behind the "wheel" of such a large flying steel tube. Just to look them in the eye, give them a nod and take my seat. It makes me feel better knowing just a little about who is controlling my destiny and feel comfortable that this person will get me to my destination.

Understanding a little bit about your situation, from something as simple as seeing your pilot, gives you comfort in knowing things will be okay. The same situation can be said about technology and its impact on your life. Technology can be confusing and riddled with technical specifications and terminology that leaves you feeling very uncomfortable. File Virtualization is a technology that is designed to bring understanding and order in an environment of chaos and confusion. Yet, very few people take the time to understand File Virtualization so they can feel a bit more comfortable with what they're about to install, in-line, into a network environment. While the F5 ARX may not be a human you can glance at and tip your hat, it still requires you to seek out a little bit of "comfort" to know your ride is going to be okay.

I firmly believe that comfort in a solution is more important than full feature set. Maybe I'm alone in that concept but, just like my airplane analogy, I take more comfort in seeing the pilot eye to eye if for only a glance than knowing how many exits the plane has or what inflatable device I have under my seat to potentially save my life. I don't take 100% comfort in knowing I have a little inflatable raft to save me incase a ton of steel screams headfirst into the ocean--maybe that's just me.

Taking Comfort In Understanding File Virtualization and Metadata. Understanding some of the basic terminology sure as heck wouldn't hurt! This doesn't mean knowing the processor speeds or the inner workings to how a file migrates from one share to another, that's pretty "in the weeds" with the technology and, at the end of the day, as long as the files get to their destination without error and on time, you probably don't care about the nitty gritty details (and if you do, we have plenty of technical tips). We're talking metadata access, modify and data plane operations. Much like a highway, your data is traveling as fast as they're allowed to travel and continue taking the correct exits as needed. Not all roads are created equal, sometimes congestion occurs, tolls are passed and you move from your origin to a known destination--file system operations do all the same things.

By understanding what metadata access and modify does, at a high level, and the idea behind a data plane you can walk away feeling that you "understand" what this F5 ARX is doing in the environment and, perhaps, a little bit about how its bringing order to the chaos. Today, I'd like to define four terms I use day-to-day when working with potential customer installations. These terms go hand in hand with "sizing" and "understanding" of a customers environment. Of course, the only way to do this is to compare metadata operations to that of a police officer pulling you over for speeding, right?

Data Plane Operations: These file operations are the fastest and the F5 ARX hardware is optimized to handle them as quickly and efficiently as possible. The best-case scenario, in a storage environment, would be to have an extremely high proportion of data plane operations and a minimal amount of metadata and control plane operations. The file system operations that get to stay on the data plane are the Porsche's and Ferrari's of the data storage world. Examples: Flush, Read, Write, Access, etc.

Metadata: Information about information! When we're talking about metadata, in our File Virtualization examples, we're talking about small descriptions of data that the F5 ARX finds important, from object names to object attributes. Imagine your drivers license as metadata, when an officer pulls you over for speeding they use this information to find out more about you and what you're all about; this may include the class of vehicle you're licensed to drive, expiration dates and state/town you inhabit. If the officer needs to know more detailed information about, you such as how many children you have, or what home town you grew up in, that goes beyond metadata and would require additional questioning.

Metadata Access Operations: These operations are slightly slower than data plane operations because it requires the operation to move from the data plane to the control plane to better analyze and assistance on the in-flight operation. This often leads to a metadata read operation (one that does not modify metadata) but is often subject to optimization techniques. A police officer can read your license "metadata" as they walk back to their car and know your name and the city you live in right away; it's more efficient than waiting to sit in their car before glancing at your license. Examples: LOOKUP, Query File Information, Find First, Find Next, FSSTAT, Lookup, etc.

Metadata Modifying Operations: These file system operations will pass through the data plane to the control plane and update the ARX metadata with changes. This may be due to attribute changes, filename changes and other such operations. While metadata modifying operations are usually less frequent than other operations, it’s important to watch their frequency for environments with intense metadata modifying operations. If a police officer has to write you a ticket, it will take more time than simply walking back to your car and saying "okay, you can go" while handing back your license. Examples: Create, Delete, Rename, Make Directory, etc.

As with many things, understanding the knowledge and terms require more time than understanding how it can be implemented to help you. Each ARX platform is designed to handle a specific size network environment, the more beefy ARX platforms are designed to handle massive scale, file counts and can juggle more metadata access and modify operations than its smaller counterparts. If you first understand how to speak the language of File Virtualization you'll begin to understand more about what solutions may work better for you.