Network Storage Systems Speed File Access

In the data-intensive world of e-business, making decisions on how to deploy the storage network can become an expensive proposition.

And as companies find that their storage needs continue to escalate, NAS (network attached storage) devices can save ebusinesses money by handling more efficiently the simple tasks of file sharing in workgroups and remote offices. In much the same way that tape offers a less expensive method of housing idle or archived data, as compared to adding rack upon rack of expensive disk-based storage boxes, a NAS system can provide faster local storage and file serving for ebusiness environments of any size at a fraction of the cost, says William Hurley, a program manager at the Yankee Group Inc., a research and consulting company in Boston.

As capacity and demand for storage continues to grow by 100 to 200 percent per year for most e-businesses, SANs have succeeded in meeting block data storage demands. But a NAS is good for workgroups and noncritical applications, Hurley says.

The best example of a NAS application would be e-mail, according to Hurley. By keeping the e-mail data stored and served locally from a NAS device, network administrators no longer need to worry about large incoming e-mail files getting stored, and possibly forgotten, on expensive back-end storage systems such as a SAN (storage area network).

"People are now trading JPEG files and all sorts of rich data via e-mail because the pipes -- Internet throughput -- are getting faster," Hurley says. "[With NAS] you don't have to meter your end-users; they can keep all their attachments, keep all their e-mails. [Users] want IT to enable them to do the job, and NAS makes IT's job very easy; so IT does what they are supposed to do, [which is] enhancing the business experience," Hurley says.

Recently Dell Computer Corp., Quantum, and Network Appliance each unveiled NAS solutions that between them offer a wide range of NAS capabilities.

With the introduction of Dell's PowerVault 705N NAS Appliance, the Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker now offers a way to install a NAS device for workgroups of under 50 users in less than 15 minutes, according to Bruce Kornfeld, director of marketing for Dell's PowerVault product line.

Starting at US$3,000, as compared to $50,000 for Dell's 530F SAN appliance, the PowerVault 705N NAS system plugs in to any network and provides a total of 120GB of local storage, which will increase to 240GB in offerings scheduled to appear later this year.

Without any configuring by the end-user, the Dell PowerVault 705N attaches to platforms running Windows NT, Novell NetWare, Unix, Linux, and even Macintosh operating systems, Kornfeld says.

Likewise, Milpitas, Calif.-based Quantum, which supplies Dell with the base technology for its NAS appliance, introduced a NAS product, the Quantum Snap Server 4100.

A sub-$5,000 file server offering, the Quantum Snap Server shares the flexibility of the Dell offering but is targeted at larger workgroups and departments of up to 150 users, according to Jeff Hill, the senior director of product marketing for Quantum Snap Servers.

"We are a point solution," Hill says, referring to the new Quantum NAS appliance. "Up and running in less than 5 minutes."

Because both the Dell and Quantum NAS appliances are designed to serve relatively small user groups, archived data residing on back-end storage devices needs to be manually copied onto the NAS appliance if the data is to be introduced into the workgroup environment.

Network Appliance, a major player in the SAN market, has come up with a NAS solution for larger enterprise deployments that removes that dilemma.

The NetApp F840 Filer is a 6TB high-end enterprise NAS filer that has the capability of actually reaching into back-end storage systems and SANs and retrieving block data, converting it into usable files that can then be shared on the NAS, according to Mark Santora, the senior vice president of marketing at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Network Appliance.

By applying existing storage networking protocols, including NDMP (Network Data Management Protocol), protocols from Microsoft's CIFS (Common Internet File System), and those proposed by the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, the NetApp F840 filer has the keys to unlock block data from back-end storage devices and distribute files out across the NAS.

"The view of a NAS today is that to compete in today's world, your data has to live on a network," Santora says. "So the issue today is how to get information from your data warehouse in front of the eyeballs of the people who make decisions, and more often than not, these people are globally dispersed."

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