ServersHardware Today: NAS Options Widen

Hardware Today: NAS Options Widen

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A few years ago, Network Appliance (NetApp) of Sunnyvale, Calif. revolutionized the storage business with the introduction of a network attached storage (NAS) device. Prior to that, the choices were simple: Stay on direct attached storage (DAS), where data is stored on disks within the server itself, or buy an expensive storage area network (SAN) complete with Fibre channel connectivity.

Network attached storage is an area that is simultaneously evolving and exploding.

Nowadays, a wide range of vendors offer NAS products, some offer SAN/NAS hybrids, and some provide NAS gateways that offer a way to tie an existing SAN into a NAS architecture. As a result, this evolving sector continues to experience significant growth.

“The network-attached storage market will reach $2 billion by 2008 with a 9 percent compound annual growth rate,” said Pushan Rinnen, an analyst at Gartner.

NAS Basics

NAS is the only type of networked storage that permits connected host systems to share data. It grew out of the problems associated with server proliferation and mushrooming storage capacity. Having a few servers or a few GBs wasn’t too much of a problem in and of itself. However, as anyone who has tried to manage several dozen Wintel boxes within a DAS system will quickly tell you, it’s issues like continually running out of disk space, underutilization of storage capacity on many servers, and over-utilization of a few servers that cause complications. In DAS, storage for each server must be managed individually and cannot be shared. Not surprisingly, this rapidly becomes a burden, and performance and scalability are restricted.

NetApp rules the roost in this fast growing sector with 36.3 percent of the NAS market share; EMC follows with 34.8 percent. HP, in third place, can manage no more than 6.8 percent.

Enter NAS. It incorporated file system capabilities into the storage device so servers are connectable to the device using Ethernet and traditional file access protocols. The NAS box then provides shared storage for many servers seamlessly, and storage management is greatly simplified.

NetApp rules the roost in this fast growing sector with 36.3 percent of the NAS market share; EMC follows with 34.8 percent. HP, in third place, can manage no more than 6.8 percent.

“SAN is more complex than NAS, which requires far less administration and can work with the Fibre channel, NAS, and iSCSI protocols,” said Karthik Kannan, director of technology and strategy at NetApp. “Administrators can manage data as opposed to systems and disks.”

The latest NAS offerings mean admins no longer have to worry about how many disks are attached to which volume, and backup can be arranged in minutes as opposed to many hours spent trying to back up all the various servers on the network.

NetApp boxes range from the low-end FAS250, which is priced from around $8,000 and is most suitable for remote offices or branch offices, to the top-of-the-line NetApp FAS980, which is ideal for enterprise storage. The FAS980 offers rapid response times, high throughput, and scalability up to 64 TB when clustered.

Hot on the heels of NetApp comes EMC. EMC is the king of the SAN world and is challenging closely in NAS too. It sells both midrange and high-end NAS systems. Its NS500 entry-level system offers dual 1.6 GHz Intel processors, 4 GB of RAM, and up to 64 TB per system. At the higher end is the NS700, which has up to 96 TB per system.

Another growing force in the NAS space is Exanet.

“NAS is the fastest growing segment of the online storage market, and NAS performance can now rival SAN for many applications,” said Clive Surfleet, chief strategy officer for Exanet. “Blade server growth will solidify NAS as mainstream storage.”

The company’s ExaStore line of NAS solutions runs the midrange to high-end gamut. A typical 10 TB two-node high availability configuration based on Serial ATA drives (SATA) lists for around $125,000 according to Surfleet.

“NAS is the fastest growing segment of the online storage market, and NAS performance can now rival SAN for many applications.” — Clive Surfleet, chief strategy officer for Exanet

Finally, at the shallow end of the pool is Adaptec. It recently acquired Snap Appliance, which has shipped around 150,000 small Snap Servers. At the very bottom of Adaptec’s product line is the Snap Server 1100, which has a capacity of 80 GB and is priced around $500. At the departmental level, the Snap Server 4500 is a 1U storage server with 1 TB of capacity priced slightly less than $5,000 (a 1.6 TB version has just been released). At the high end is the Snap Server 18000, which uses dual Xeon processors and SATA drives for increased performance. It scales as high as 30 TB and is priced at roughly $142,000 — less than $5 per GB. This recently released addition to the Snap lineup gives the company a stronger presence in the midtier and is a shift from its traditionally lower-end NAS focus. However, unlike the products noted previously, Adaptec does not offer Fibre channel based products, only IP-bases storage.

“We are particularly strong in distributed office, remote office, and educational deployments,” said Steven Rodgers, director of technical marketing for Adaptec’s Snap Appliance Division. “Our products are also particularly good for near-line backup and [areas] where IT staffs are low on storage savvy.”

Broadening the Options at the NAS Gateway

The biggest force of change in the NAS market at the moment is the NAS gateway. Enterprises that have a SAN infrastructure can use a NAS gateway to have the best of both worlds.

“NAS gateways serve the function of being able to leverage SAN arrays in environments where customers are now choosing NAS protocols,” said NetApp’s Kannan.

EMC is one company that has harnessed the ascendancy of gateways to increase its market share. Its NS704G NAS gateway was a big seller in 2004.

“Clearly 2004 was the year of the gateway, and we expect more strong growth in this area,” said Tom Joyce, senior director of NAS product Marketing at EMC. “Customers with existing SANs can easily and cost effectively deploy NAS via gateways without the need for a separate market.”

Steve Duplessie, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, believes NAS gateways have potential. With a little more maturity, they will exert a serious influence on the storage field as a whole.

“I think in the future that gateways will become the way to go in NAS,” he said.

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