Midrange NAS Devices Scale with the Best

In thenetwork attached storage (NAS) vs. SAN decision, some administrators chooseSANs because of the perceived scalability. Not so fast! Two vendors show thatmidrange NAS can scale with the big boys.

NetworkEngines, a vendor of server and storage appliances, is rolling out midrange NASappliances with a scalable architecture. Likewise, Network Storage Solutionsextended its u-Stor II NAS platform for greater scalability.

NetworkEngines’ StorageEngine Voyager NAS device can hold up to 144 GB of data in aslim 1U rack mount, an important feature for application service providers(ASPs) and ISPs who like to scale out storage despite a small physical space.If administrators find they need more storage for their applications, NetworkEngines offers a 1U expansion unit that allows administrators to add storage.The StorageArray unit is hot-swappable and contains 288 GB of storage, bringingthe capacity of the total NAS up to 432 GB.

NAS devicescan be ideal solutions for midrange enterprises running Windows NT and Windows2000. They enable central storage for clustered systems and allowadministrators to scale up network storage quickly. “We’re really designed tofit in with the concept of the clustered environment,” says Rich Friedman,director of marketing at Network Engines.

Friedmansays midrange users who have n-node clustering for their Exchange servers mightlook to a NAS for shared storage between the two servers. Since NAS is easierand less expensive than SAN for users to deploy, he says it is a good solutionfor midrange environments.

EricSheppard, research analyst at IDC, says Voyager is a good complement to NetworkEngines’ line of server appliances. “It’s nice to have that full product line,”he observes. In addition to the new NAS device, Network Engines offers a WebServer appliance and a network management appliance. Sheppard says Voyager’smanagement console plugs into the management interface for the other NetworkEngines devices, attracting existing customers.

StorageEngineVoyager features a proprietary microkernel operating system that serves dataoff the storage and enables users to store NT’s CIFS file system and NFS usedby Unix and Linux customers. Friedman says the flexibility of file systemsdistinguishes the product from low-end NAS vendors who typically use a strippeddown version of Linux and NFS for NAS. In addition, the microkernel operatingsystem has less overhead, improving performance.

Friedmancontends that many customers who need large amounts of storage are paying forfeatures they don’t need. “They’re buying NetApp because its overkill,” hesays. Many of the customers did not need the performance enhancements andenhanced functionality Network Appliance offers, but bought the product becauseof the volume of storage. Network Engines provides a large amount of storagewithout the extra features.

NetworkStorage Solutions (NSS) takes an open approach to creating its u-Stor II NASappliances. In addition to using expandable modules for holding and addingstorage, it uses standard Intel components for the controller devices, allowingusers to improve performance through upgrades.

A u-Stor IIbase unit is not as slim as Voyager, but provides a great amount of storage atthe outset. A base unit consists of a 1U controller module, and a 3U storageunit, which holds 10 hot swappable SCSI drives, giving administrators up to 730GB of storage.

Whenadministrators want to ramp up their storage, they can add up to two more 3Uexpansion units, each with an additional 730GB of storage. With three storageunits, u-Stor II can hold 2.2 TB in a 10U space.

“We use anopen architecture, so our customers have been able to maintain theirinvestment,” says Brad Clemmons, CEO of NSS. NSS uses commodity hardware in itsunits, so administrators can upgrade components over time to improveperformance. The NAS controller chips are standard Pentium processors, whichsome administrators have upgraded for better performance. In addition, as harddrive capacity increases, administrators can swap out larger SCSI drives forthe smaller, older drives.

Like NetworkEngines, NSS has a proprietary microkernel operating system, SPANStor, runningin its NAS appliances. U-Stor II supports Microsoft’s CIFS file system, as wellas NFS and HTTP, natively.

IDC’sSheppard says that because service providers often need to scale quickly, withsometimes unpredictable customer activity, NAS devices are attractive to them.NAS devices do not have the up-front capital investment of SANs, he says, whichallows service providers to minimize some of their risk.

Clemmonssays many of his customers are service providers, but sees adoption growing intraditional enterprises, particularly in CAD and other graphics departments.

Index:

NetworkEngines Inc., Canton,Mass., www.networkengines.com

NetworkStorage Solutions Inc.,Chantilly, Va., www.nssolutions.com