NAS Evolves Into Enterprise Roles

Network attached storage continues to pile on the features in response to enterprise demand.

By Drew Robb | Posted Jul 26, 2006
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Storage is no longer the simple technology it used to be. Once upon a time, there were two camps: storage area networks (SANs) and network attached storage (NAS). Then came iSCSI as an alternative to SAN. More recent software innovation and virtualization mean it hardly matters whether storage resources are NAS, SAN, or iSCSI. Some vendors, like Network Appliance (NetApp) of Sunnyvale, Calif., offer a wide range of boxes that serve either as SAN or NAS.

"NetApp boxes do SAN or NAS from the same machine," says Christian Naple, a sales manager at Berkeley Communications of Emeryville, Calif., an IT integrator and NetApp reseller. "The same system can even have iSCSI and Fibre Channel [FC]."

As a result of this market convergence, IDC now combines NAS and iSCSI-based SANs into what it calls the total network disk storage market. This sector exhibited 15.4 percent year-over-year growth in the first quarter to $2.8 billion. EMC continues to lead with 28.7 percent revenue share, followed by HP (19.3 percent), and IBM (10.7 percent).

IDC also notes that the NAS market on its own remains healthy. It grew 14.7 percent year-over-year, with EMC leading at 37.1 percent and NetApp with 34.4 percent share.

EMC announced two new members of the Celerra family this year: EMC NS350 and the NS704. The NS350 is an entry-level midrange IP storage platform that scales up to 6 TB, and simultaneously supports FC and ATA disks. It is upgradable to an NS500 gateway, providing customers with direct FC access to storage and the ability to expand the back-end to multiple arrays. The NS704 supports advance clustering with three active NAS Data Movers and one passive Data Mover. It scales up to 48 TB of useable storage. It is upgradable to a 704 gateway, enabling direct FC access to storage and multiple storage arrays on the back-end. Both models support the NFS, CIFS, and iSCSI protocols.

EMC also introduced new software features via the EMC Rainfinity Global File Virtualization platform. This provides namespace management of information in heterogeneous NAS environments. As a result, it is easier to analyze performance, load balance, and manage storage. For example, it is possible to move the file system while the unit is still live.

"We are definitely seeing more virtualization of NAS environments," says Ken Steinhardt, an EMC NAS specialist. "EMC Rainfinity takes multiple NAS server islands and makes them look like one NAS pool."

NetApp, meanwhile, has introduced its FAS6000. It can operate as a NAS or SAN unit and is aimed at large-scale applications and consolidation. Its high bandwidth architecture can handle more than 1,000 disks, and up to 32 FC ports or 48 Ethernet ports. It comes in two flavors — the 6300 or the larger 6700.

Like EMC, NetApp has also been busy on the software side. It released the latest version of its operating system, Data ONTAP GX. Technology integrated into this product via an acquisition of Spinnaker Networks allows up to 24 NetApp units to be clustered together, according to Naple.

NAS Innovators

NAS innovation is not restricted to the top two. Pillar Data Systems of San Jose, Calif., released the Pillar Axiom Storage system, which consists of: management software that enables system administrators to allocate storage resources, specify Quality of Service (QoS), and define storage automation parameters; the Pilot, a single policy controller that runs the management function; the Slammer, which has up to four high-performance, high-reliability data movers and managers that provide non-stop data access; and the Brick, which has up to 32 storage enclosures that provide the high-performance storage for the common SAN or NAS storage pool. Starting price for the Pillar Axiom Storage system is $75,000.

"The Pillar Axiom NAS supports native NFS and CIFS and includes robust cross-protocol locking, user authentication with Active Directory/NIS, and user mapping," says Paul Morrissey, senior manager, network storage and software, Pillar Data Systems. "It's designed for high availability to ensure file services remain available despite hardware/software anomalies."

The high availability features include a scalable peered NAS controllers, battery-backed write memory cache (up to 12 GB) mirrored over FC to an active pair node, and virtual IP capability to seamlessly move IP resources between ports when required. A QoS performance manager automatically allocates resources to guarantee service levels, and an Active Journal tunes cache via algorithms that enable optimized operation based on I/O profile (sequential/random). Data protection capabilities include snapshot, replication, D2D backup & NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol) backup. The Pillar Axiom NAS has a scalable online distributed file system expansion up to 380 TB. The maximum storage system cache is 96 GB per system across eight slammer nodes.

"The Axiom NAS is layered on a native common storage pool comprised of high availability SATA and FC disk enclosures," says Morrissey. "This is the same storage pool that is shared with Axiom SAN slammers [controllers]."

Kazeon Systems of Mountain View, Calif., takes a different approach. Its IS1200-F provides file reporting and data placement for tiered storage based on file metadata. The base IS1200-F system is a commodity 1U server loaded with Kazeon software. IT administrators can use it to gain visibility into the file data scattered across their NAS boxes.

Because the IS1200-F is out-of-band and agent-less, installing the IS1200-F involves no disruption to existing processes and environments. A single IS1200-F system can discover and classify many millions of files each day. They can also be clustered into a single logical system to provide automated failover and workload distribution. The company has a strategic partnership with NetApp. One IS1200-F unit is priced around $50,000.

"We discover, scan, and index files, either at the metadata or content level, or both," says Jay Desai, director of product management at Kazeon. "One of our boxes can be installed and scanning all your NAS filers in about 30 minutes."

He reports that most people have no idea what is being stored. Adding the Kazeon capabilities, he says, makes it easy to know your storage content, spot duplicates, and isolate files that should not be stored — such as those containing personal information being kept in a line of business system.

While Kazeon works on the content side, Attune Systems, of Santa Clara, Calif., focuses on NAS virtualization. Attune's Maestro File Manager FM5500 is an appliance designed to reduce the complexity and cost of managing file server and NAS resources without disrupting users or requiring risky deployments. The Maestro File Manager FM5500 has a list price of $44,995.

"IT administrators are continuously looking for ways to manage their file servers while adding capacity and migrating data," says Alan Kessler, CEO of Attune Systems. "The Maestro File Manager virtualizes both files and shares across heterogeneous vendors and protocols."

Finally, for those who wish to build their own NAS environment, ANStor64 of El Cajon, Calif., just debuted its NAS and iSCSI 64-bit operating system called ANStor64 OS aimed at tier 2 OEM's, System Integrators and VARs."

ANStor64 is a low cost easy-to-implement alternative to expensive FC, with comparable features and performance," says Scott Smyth, CTO of ANStor64. "The complete IP 64-bit Storage OS offers complete NAS and iSCSI functionality in a single operating system."

NAS Options

NAS, then, comes in multiple flavors. Tim Arland, principal consultant at Forsythe Technology said NAS can take the form of a file server, a dedicated NAS appliance, a NAS Gateway that leverages an existing SAN infrastructure, or a dial protocol device, such as the ANStor64 and many of the newer offerings from NetApp and EMC.

"NAS product offerings continue to mature and become increasingly more enterprise class," says Arland. "The advantages of NAS include low-cost connections, lower management costs, the ability to leverage existing infrastructure and security technology, high utilization rates and easy installation. Factually, most organizations have NAS today, though they may not call it that."

Article courtesy of ServerWatch

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