A look at the two technologies dominating the storage market.

One thing's for certain: Your IT department's need for storage will continue to grow. The questions are: Should you invest in SAN or NAS? Will there ever be a time when these two technologies will merge into one?

Trends to Watch

Worth Mentioning
There are some new trends in SAN and a recent departure in the NAS environment worth highlighting.

One is Fujitsu Softek's Storage Virtualization products, powered by DataCore, which speeds allocation of SAN storage resources.

The Softek storage applications cover the gamut of storage routines, from data migration to backup, and include a virtualization product dubbed Softek Storage Virtualization, which can provide policy-based management to any storage device in a virtualized network, regardless of vendor.

In 2001 EMC lead the fabric-attached storage market (defined as both SAN and NAS) with 43.3 percent of market revenue. The company also widened its revenue lead as the world's No. 1 provider of storage management software, with 30.4 percent revenue share.

Source: Gartner Dataquest

"With Softek Storage Virtualization, companies will be able to virtualize their storage networks, and essentially be able to shop for the lowest price drives, substituting HP drives for EMC if the price is better," explains Scott Kennedy, vice president of strategic business development for Softek.

Softek guarantees a 25 percent improvement in storage infrastructure utilization or it will supply a free license of Softek Storage Manager software for one year.

Fujitsu Softek plans on aggressively growing Fujitsu's market share and revenues in the North American and European marketplaces, which together represent 85 percent of the worldwide storage management software market.

Saying Goodbye
Given the current state of SAN and all the talk about convergence, some companies are exiting the NAS business all together.

Take Maxtor, for example. The company recently announced it is getting out of the NAS business, saying increased competition from larger vendors hurt sales.

Got Software?

It's not just about the hardware, either. If you decide on a SAN product, you have to worry about SAN management software, which helps simplify administration of the content coming in from myriad outside networks and helps maintain the flexibility of the storage hardware.

Vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Corp., Computer Associates International Inc., and IBM Corp. are among those offering products that network managers can use to fully tame SAN management.

Best known for its hard disk drives, Maxtor will no longer sell its MaxAttach network-attached storage (NAS) systems, according to a spokesman. The company will wind down its business with current customers, supporting them through the end of their contracts. In addition to the product line shutdown, the division's 230 employees were laid off, said a spokesman. Maxtor has about 9,000 employees.

The Evaluator Group's Randy Kerns thinks what happened to Maxtor will likely happen to other vendors, due to the fierce competition in the market space. "It's tough to make a buck there because that's a low-margin business," Kern says.

Duking it Out in Storage
It seems that everyone likes a good old-fashioned one-on-one battle. Remember the sensational boxing matches between Tyson and Holyfield, or John Wayne shooting the bad guys in a classic Hollywood western? The premise is generally the same: There are two rivals, but only one will emerge victorious.

Thanks to the emergence of the Internet and networked corporate computing architectures, most companies now have enormous amounts of data to deal with. All this information needs to be stored somewhere, prompting a huge interest in enterprise storage hardware systems.

Enter the two competitors: storage-area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS). A SAN is a network separate from a company's local-area network (LAN), specifically configured to allow servers to communicate with large storage arrays, using a connectivity protocol called Fibre Channel. NAS involves using a dedicated storage device, an optimized server with a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) storage capacity, attached directly to the network.

Worldwide SAN
Equipment Market

2002: $7.5 billion
2007: $84 billion

Source: Pioneer Consulting

Thus, companies have two options for their large data storage needs: Buy NAS devices and keep hooking them up to the LAN or build a SAN in addition to the LAN.

Early leaders emerged in these markets—EMC Corp. in the SAN space and Network Appliance Inc. in the NAS arena. The companies are often pitted against one another in media reports as though they're locked in some kind of storage-market-share death match.

Coming Together
As for the debate between SAN and NAS, many industry analysts believe it will eventually cease to exist due to the number of vendors continuing to make significant strides in merging the two environments together.

Storage Technologies Planned By IT Within the Next 24 Months

"It had been thought by some experts that NAS and SAN would emerge as competing systems; instead they're more likely to be used in tandem," said Randy Kerns, a partner with research firm The Evaluator Group in Greenwood Village, Colo. "Five years ago there was virtually no consolidation, but three years from now consolidation will be dominant," Kerns predicts.

In an industry that's expected to significantly exceed growth expectations within the next five years (see "NAS/SAN Storage Market" on page 16), a SAN/NAS convergence would help organizations make better use of their existing infrastructures.

NAS/SAN Storage Market

Closing the Gap
So how will vendors bridge the gap between NAS and SAN?

In a converged environment, multiple servers with different interfaces attach to the same storage pool, with each machine able to communicate with the other devices. For instance, EMC customers can get the benefits of a shared NAS/SAN infrastructure with Celerra, a NAS server that relies on EMC's Symmetrix array for storage. Compaq Computer Corp., too, offers a Celerra-like product, the StorageWorks NAS Executor E7000, for use in Compaq storage environments.

However, analysts agree that the most powerful force driving the NAS/SAN convergence is open-storage networking (OSN). OSN is based on the concept that linking pools of storage with networking technologies is essential to giving companies the data they need whenever they want it, with perfect data integrity.

Using OSN means large organizations such as retail giant Wal-Mart can fully leverage existing management tools, staff, knowledge and equipment resources while enjoying the best offerings of a large, mature and diverse base of suppliers. That leaves time to focus on business problems and opportunities, not on evaluating, testing and integrating new technologies.

Storage Growth

Companies will increase their average online storage capacities by a factor of 10 over the next five years. Storage and associated administration will grow from five percent of current information systems budgets to 17 percent in 2003.

Source: Forrester Research

Behind the NAS/SAN convergence is the move by some vendors, such as Network Appliance, to push NAS technology into the enterprise by increasing its scalability and feature set—through such technologies as clustering and block-level access.

Simultaneously, other companies, including IBM and Compaq, are making SAN technology more palatable for midsize companies by making it more affordable and easier to configure.