Consolidating NAS pays off

Windows Storage Server 2003 and Beyond: WinFS
This past September's release of Microsoft's Windows

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Storage Server 2003 gave an added boost to the network-attached storage (NAS) market. Storage Server 2003 is the latest version of Windows stripped down, and is optimized for file and print serving and packed with a variety of storage goodies such as volume shadow copy services (VSS), distributed file services and file replication services. Since its release, vendors such as Iomega at the low end of the NAS market to EMC at the high end-- and many in-between--have rushed to bring out NAS products built around Windows Storage Server 2003.

"Customers have been asking for this. They want to move to NAS and consolidate their Windows file servers on the Microsoft platform. Previously, they had to use proprietary NAS operating systems like NetApp or EMC," says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst, Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, MA. Now they can manage NAS using their Windows skills and familiar tools. Longhorn, the next generation of the Windows operation system, will include what amounts to the next generation of the Microsoft Storage Server, called WinFS. According to early Longhorn documentation, WinFS is an active storage platform for organizing, searching and sharing a variety of information. It defines a rich data model, builds on top of a relational storage engine, supports a flexible programming model and provides a set of data services for monitoring, managing and manipulating either file-based or non-file data. Microsoft describes WinFS as "more than just a new file system, because it also deals with non-file data, such as personal contacts, event calendars and e-mail messages." Essentially a programmable storage platform, WinFS will expose relational-, object-oriented- and XML-based APIs for access to the underlying data store. It will also support data access through the traditional Win32 File System API. The WinFS programming model is extensible in that user-defined schemas and data types can be incorporated to serve special-purpose needs, according to the documentation. The benefits of WinFS will result from the many ways users and applications can store and access the data. As Microsoft puts it: WinFS "enables users to organize, find and share information in a more intuitive and logical way." The big question for the rest of the storage industry is how open Microsoft will make WinFS.

Altera Corp., a programmable chip manufacturer in San Jose, CA, consolidates storage for a mix of Windows and Unix servers at a ratio of 10:1, reports Rosemary Nahrvar, senior IS manager. "We got rid of a lot of old file and print servers and departmental servers and put it all on BlueArc NAS with 8TB," she says. The company recently purchased a second BlueArc device. "It is easy and much cheaper to add space--about $25,000 for 1TB using a BlueArc ATA array," she says. Altera also runs an EMC-based SAN for its Oracle database and ERP system.

Agere Systems Inc., an integrated circuit manufacturer based in Allentown, PA, embarked on its current NAS strategy in early 2003 with the goal of consolidating about 20 Unix file servers while providing 30TB to 40TB of storage capacity. It installed Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) filers and used tools from Rainfinity to move data from its old filers to the new NAS boxes. Today, the company is reducing the number of NAS devices by replacing older NetApp filers with a larger model as the leases for the existing devices expire. "Over time, we end up with fewer--but bigger--filers, which lowers our maintenance and support costs and gives us a better cost per megabyte," says Alan Cohen, Agere IT architect.

At Houston Energy, an independent offshore oil and gas exploration company, the plan from the start was to consolidate nine storage devices in an EMC Celerra NAS device. The goal of the consolidation is stability, scalability, manageability and data protection. "We replaced nine old SCSI disk arrays controlled by Unix servers and some other old NAS products with a new 8.6TB Celerra system," says Paul Davis, MIS network administrator.

Microsoft makes an enterprise play
Although Windows has been traditionally relegated to the low end of NAS, Microsoft is making a determined effort to move Windows up the storage food chain with Windows Storage Server 2003 (see "Windows Storage Server 2003 and beyond: WinFS"). "In big enterprises, Windows was not the first choice for NAS consolidation, but with clustering that can change," says Mike Fisch, director of storage and networking at The Clipper Group, Wellesley, MA.

Windows NAS may be suitable for midsized enterprises, "but at the high end, enterprises will still go to SAN for consolidation," says Peter Pawlak, lead analyst, Directions on Microsoft, Kirkland, WA.

Consolidation of Windows file and print servers is a natural for Windows-based NAS. Among dedicated Windows shops--especially at the low end--Windows Storage Server 2003 should be warmly welcomed. "I haven't seen it yet, but I'm looking forward to Storage Server 2003," says Tim Killion, IT director at BRE Commercial, a San Diego real estate firm that runs Microsoft systems. The 125-person firm uses NAS devices from Dell, Iomega Corp. and Quantum Corp.

Dell insists that Windows Storage Server can scale sufficiently for serious enterprise storage consolidation. It will offer the Microsoft operating system with PowerVault systems that can handle up to 16TB with SCSI and up to 40TB with Fibre Channel (FC). "Yes, it can be entry level, but it also is robust and can scale to eight-way clustering," says John Pate, Dell product marketing manager.

EMC is also supporting Windows Storage Server 2003 for its small NetWin NAS products. "It's intended to be used in a core-edge deployment model, like you find with branch offices," says Chuck Hollis, EMC's vice president of storage platform marketing. It would require a board upgrade, however, to scale from NetWin NAS to EMC's Clariion line. NetWin works for organizations that want a low-cost, cookie-cutter storage solution they can quickly deploy at multiple satellite offices.

Adding advanced features to NAS
Vendors are loading advanced features into their NAS products. Windows Storage Server 2003 includes not only volume shadow copy for fast file restoration from snapshots but multipath I/O, iSCSI support, the ability to act as a gateway to the SAN, a new Web management interface and more. Many of these features plus others, such as a multioperating system and multiprotocol support, have long been available in the non-Windows world from NAS vendors.

The most popular features include high-availability clustering and point-in-time snapshots. Winphoria Networks, a division of GTSS Motorola, recently added a multiprotocol NAS storage array from Winchester Systems and makes regular use of NAS snapshots. "We use a snapshot for online backup of the file system," says David Heafey, IT manager at Winphoria. The snapshot is stored nightly on a second NAS device, where it maintains about one week of snapshots online. Heafey expects the multiprotocol NAS device to be instrumental in any future migration from NAS to SAN.

Agere uses snapshots to provide short-term recovery for users who need to quickly restore a lost or corrupted file. "We also will run SnapMirror with specific applications for redundancy and disaster recovery," says Agere's Cohen. SnapMirror is NetApp's replication tool. For full data backup, Agere also uses Veritas' NetBackup in conjunction with the network data management protocol (NDMP)--an open protocol used to control data backup and recovery communications between primary and secondary storage in a heterogeneous network environment--to send data to a media server with tape attached.

Houston Energy mixes FC disk and low-cost ATA disk in its Clariion storage array. Network administrator Davis then uses EMC's SureSnap, a snapshot capability that comes with the EMC management console, along with basic NFS file transfer to move data between high-performance FC disk, economy FC disk and low-cost ATA disk--all within the same array.

This was first published in March 2004

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