Which NAS OS?

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The network-attached storage (NAS) market has changed a lot over the last five years. Network Appliance revolutionized the field in the late 1990s by evolving the NAS field as a whole. Not surprisingly, others have also entered the fray. In fact, we now have three operating systems vying for leadership in this space.

The primary players are NetApp’s DataONTAP, Snap Appliance’s GuardianOS, and Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003. The first two are proprietary, whereas the last one is broadly available to a wide range of products from different vendors. EMC, in particular, has gotten behind the Windows platform.

“Netapp is the king of Enterprise NAS, with EMC second,” said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. “Snap Appliance (now Adaptec) is the volume mid-tier player.”

Let’s take a brief look at each platform.

Data ONTAP by Network Appliance

NetApp’s proprietary OS is called Data ONTAP. Due to licensing deals with Microsoft, NetApp is also compatible with Windows-based NAS appliances. This allows you to utilize a non-Windows device that interoperates with Windows. Another big plus of Data ONTAP is that it was created specifically for NAS applications and offers the greatest range of high-end features, such as advanced mirroring and snapshots. You can use Data ONTAP, for example, for hundreds of data snapshots and point-in-time copies every hour if you require it.

NetApp has established a common architecture across all products based on Data ONTAP and its WAFL (write anywhere file layout) file system. These two elements underlie all its platforms and are a big reason that NetApp dominates in the primary storage part of the NAS landscape. And that’s the whole point — NAS was designed to simplify storage management compared to traditional SANs.

“With NAS, the FC part is disguised so a lot less is required of the storage administrator,” said Karthik Kannan, director of technology and strategy at NetApp.

But complexity is a relative concept. Compared to some Snap and Windows gear, some NetApp filers are quite complex. But as new versions of the OS are released, greater simplification is apparent. The newest edition, Data ONTAP 7G (Grid), adds dynamic virtualization and removes some of the administration from disk configuration at the physical level. This means more time managing data as opposed to managing systems and disks.

“Administrators no longer have to worry about how many disks are attached to a volume and program for backups, and so on,” said Kannan.

Version 7G is just the start of NetApp’s grid vision. Its acquisition of Spinnaker Networks last year was part of the plan to move into enterprise grid computing. That vision will come into being over the next 12 to 24 months.

GuardianOS from Snap Appliance

GuardianOS by Snap is particularly strong in the workgroup and departmental markets. Now that it has been acquired by Adaptec, there are signs that it is moving into larger enterprise environments. Newer appliances, for example scale up beyond 29 TB.

GuardianOS is now up to version 3.1. This latest version adds iSCSI support, block-based services, some dynamic provisioning capabilities and the ability to expand an iSCSI LUN on the fly. Another feature is Snap EDR – enterprise data replication. This is replication and aggregation software that enables remote backups and data transfer over a WAN.

According to Steven Rogers, director of technical marketing for Adaptec’s Snap Appliance division, Guardian OS is a more streamlined and resilient NAS OS than Windows or Data ONTAP.

“We lead in performance and efficiency compared to Windows Storage Server and can also run in a mixed environment,” said Rogers. “We make NAS administration very simple so you don’t have to hire expert storage resources to run it, while keeping the cost per MB down.”

Adaptec is clearly extending the traditional reach of Snap into the enterprise. Its main competitor, for now, is Windows-based storage. In the meantime, the company is leaving the high end to NetApp.

“In certain features, we do not have a comparable range of enterprise functionality compared to NetApp, and don’t have FC connectivity,” said Rogers. “But we do now offer replication, and our products are idle for secondary or distributed storage.”

Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003

According to IDC, NAS appliances running the Microsoft operating system are expected to account for about half of all appliances in the market by the end of 2004. They offer interoperability with Windows environments and can scale from one TB to over 60 TB. Windows Storage Server 2003 is now the central operating system of NAS appliances from a variety of vendors such as HP, EMC and Dell. In addition, the OS is readily available to entry-level customers, and applications for backup, security and management can be acquired from any vendor.

Microsoft has made major changes between the 2000 and 2003 versions and is clearly intent on capturing market share. On the downside, however, some criticize Windows Storage Server as being little more than a server with a browser console.

Further, security concerns continue to plague the Windows OS. Due to its ubiquity, it is a magnet for hackers. Thus when security of data is a factor, GuardianOS and NetApp come out ahead. Data ONTAP, in fact, is designed with security in mind. The microkernel of the OS contains all the key features required for backup, replication, WORM, etc. With all the software embedded into it, there is no need to load additional software modules that could compromise security.

“Windows comes with traditional bugs and flaws,” said Kannan. “Data ONTAP’s code is tightly compiled for storage so there is no place for a script to execute.”

Article courtesy of Enterprise IT Planet

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.

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