Vendors Working to Wed SANs to NAS

Network attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN) have been viewed for some time as different, if not irreconcilable, storage paradigms. But recently, storage networking vendors have begun working on strategies to integrate the two storage models. The goal is greater interoperability and a comprehensive solution set of offerings to help enterprise IT organizations meet the need for high-performance and easily expandable storage offerings.

To some extent, this focus on interoperability between SAN and NAS solutions can be attributed to necessity. While SANs are a relatively new technology, NAS devices trace their roots back to the late 1980s. And as SANs experience the growing pains to which all emerging technologies are subject -- such as interoperability problems or lack of a unified management framework -- NAS devices enjoy essentially plug-and-play interoperability with enterprise networks.

Moreover, NAS is emerging as the de facto way to easily add inexpensive storage to enterprise environments. In 1999, hard disk manufacturers such as Quantum Corp. ( and Maxtor Corp. ( joined market stalwarts Micro Technology Inc. (MTI, and Auspex Systems Inc. (, among others, in offering NAS solutions. Both Quantum and Maxtor cited the need to move away from commodity production of hard disk drives to more lucrative intelligent networked storage devices.

The topologies of SAN and NAS implementations are such that the two storage paradigms can complement one another. A SAN is a dedicated storage network, usually -- but not exclusively -- using Fibre Channel as a backbone technology to provide high-speed, high-performance connectivity among devices. NAS devices are essentially plug-and-play, featuring embedded network operating systems that facilitate file access and allow them to be plugged into existing enterprise networks.

Kevin Liebl, product marketing manager at MTI, says his company is touting a comprehensive storage strategy that bundles NAS and SAN solutions with outsourced storage network management and backup services to companies seeking an easy way to add scalable, robust storage.

"The customers that we talk with absolutely want to move to SAN architectures, but they recognize that it’s not plug-and-play. You can’t go buy an off-the-shelf, build-it-yourself kit yet," Liebl explains. "So we’re pushing data services which combine all of these individual components -- SAN architectures, NAS, backup technologies, management technologies, and support services -- into a complete offering."

Others in the industry are taking notice.

Since its inception, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA, has largely concentrated on the SAN side of the industry. But a series of announcements in late 1999 and early 2000 may demonstrate that SNIA is embracing the benefits of NAS and SAN coexistence strategies. In late October 1999, for example, SNIA unveiled a newly aligned technology focus and announced the appointment of a number of storage industry luminaries to high profile positions within the organization. One area the group hopes to further develop is NAS/SAN integration, SNIA representatives say.

"The creation of interoperable service and management standards for storage systems is critical to the success of both SAN and NAS deployments, and to the IT departments that will use them," says Andrea Westerinen, technical director at SNIA. "These systems do not exist in isolation, and their operation and management must fit into an enterprise framework."

In mid-January, SNIA also announced the formation of a new working group dedicated to the tasks of promoting education about and establishing standards for NAS (see story on page 22).