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"File area network" (FAN) is a relatively generic term that describes a system that is put into place within a computer network to make it easier for users and administrators to access data across multiple devices and systems, regardless of physical location, hardware or other mitigating factors. This can be accomplished through the use of different software layers that operate on top of existing systems, or through the use of specialized hardware that complements the software to provide added functionality. From the user perspective, a file area network makes all files on a given system accessible without the need for knowledge of specific devices, filesystems or the underlying architecture. Administrators using a file area network approach are able to perform functions such as backups, upgrades, maintenance and file migration without interruptions to user access, and can add new functionality seamlessly.
One of the problems a file area network is designed to solve occurs in large organizations that have a wide and varied collection of data, sometimes across multiple networks or stored on multiple devices. Some basic networking and administration systems, such as a storage area network (SAN), can be used to make this information accessible at a certain level, but it also might require components such as a database management system that might not scale or be applicable on all devices. Another technique that can be used could involve moving all of the data to central servers for managed access, although this might require hardware upgrades and a central geographical location.
By developing a file area network, a layer of abstraction is created between the physical devices and locations where files are stored and the software — both administrative and end-user — that is used to access the files. This means that, instead of an organization having to constantly maintain a single data storage bank or use messy methods to stitch existing file networks together as it grows, a single file area network can be used to bring all the disparate elements together. This has the added benefit of being mostly transparent to an end-user and also provides mechanisms so access is standardized across the entire network.
In some instances, a file area network can be installed as a purely software-based solution in which a single program bridges the divide between storage devices. Alternately, the network can use custom hardware that helps to virtualize the filesystem and manage traffic that is attempting to modify the data. Once in place, an effective file area network can allow an organization to perform tasks such as upgrades and maintenance without any long-term disruption in services.