Storage Basics: NAS Options Broaden

Enterprise Storage Forum content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

A few years ago, Network Appliance 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.

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 is a distant third at 6.8 percent.

Enter NAS. It incorporated file system capabilities into the storage device so that 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, according to IDC, and 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 mid-tier 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-based 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 get 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, founder of 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.

Article courtesy of Server Watch

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Cloud Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.

Latest Articles

15 Software Defined Storage Best Practices

Software Defined Storage (SDS) enables the use of commodity storage hardware. Learn 15 best practices for SDS implementation.

What is Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)?

Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCoE) is the encapsulation and transmission of Fibre Channel (FC) frames over enhanced Ethernet networks, combining the advantages of Ethernet...

9 Types of Computer Memory Defined (With Use Cases)

Computer memory is a term for all of the types of data storage technology that a computer may use. Learn more about the X types of computer memory.