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NAS system buying decisions

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Unified storage

With the two leading NAS vendors -- EMC in its VNX array family and NetApp in all its systems -- supporting file-system protocols (NFS and CIFS) and block-based protocols (Fibre Channel and iSCSI) in a single storage array, the unified storage approach is gaining popularity. This is especially true for SMB companies looking for a single storage system that meets all their storage needs: deliver file shares and services, but also serve as storage for virtualized servers and back-office applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint and databases.

“Small and midsize companies are usually looking for a jack-of-all-trades storage system that’s easy to manage and affordable,” said Drew Schlussel, EMC’s director of product management for VNX.

Storage and virtualization

With the accelerated deployment of virtualized servers, integration with and features that aid virtualized computing infrastructures are becoming important storage evaluation criteria. It starts with determining how quickly and efficiently volumes can be assigned to virtual machines (VM). “With FlexClone, we can rapidly clone VMware VMDK images with the click of a button,” said Jason Blosil, NetApp’s product marketing manager.

The simplicity of deploying virtualized servers whose VM images are stored on a single NAS and, if created as thin clones, share many of the same physical storage blocks, can easily result in performance problems.

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Identifying the mechanisms a NAS system has in place to support the unique requirements of virtualized servers is crucial to preventing unpleasant performance surprises as the number of VMs increases. Some vendors use a combination of solid-state storage and automated storage tiering via policies or cache to keep hotspots in the fastest storage tier.

VMware has been providing the vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI) to offload storage and associated management functions from vSphere to storage systems, but prior to vSphere 5, support was mostly limited to block-based storage. In vSphere 5, VAAI has been enhanced to better support NFS and network-attached storage for tasks like thin provisioning and snapshots. VAAI support helps remove storage bottlenecks by offloading resources of intense storage and management tasks from the hypervisor to the storage system.

Finally, hypervisor plug-ins for VMware vCenter and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) that provide storage management and reporting from within hypervisor consoles enable IT generalists and server administrators to perform storage tasks.

Evolving NAS systems

Because of their many merits, NAS systems, in the form of gateways to block-based storage and standalone systems with their own storage, have become an essential component of today’s data centers. With increased support for scale-out architectures, block-based protocols along with file-system protocols, tight integration with virtualized environments and storage clouds, and an expanding list of features, NAS system are moving closer to becoming a storage system nirvana: a single, fast and massively scalable storage system for all applications and data.

BIO: Jacob Norbel Gsoedl is a freelance writer and a corporate director for business systems. He can be reached at jgsoedl@yahoo.com.

This was first published in November 2011

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