Roll Your Own NAS

Is building your own NAS better?

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: Evaluating the benefits of IP SANs:

Have you ever marveled at the price some network-attached storage (NAS) vendors charge for a PC and a few disk drives? If so, you may want to take a look at a new breed of NAS software which, for a fraction of the cost of a preconfigured unit, lets you transform an Intel-compatible PC into a full-fledged NAS box.

Among the vendors to offer build-your-own NAS software are AMI, with its StorTrends offering -- $299 from AMI's online store, and about $250 from AMI resellers -- and Zetta Systems, whose Zetta Server comes in Advanced ($4,999), Standard ($999) and Lite (free) versions.

In the case of AMI's StorTrends, you get a Linux NAS server that includes support for Unix, Windows, Apple, Netware, ftp and http clients; Active Directory support; software RAID 0, 1 and 5; and a host of other goodies. Performance- and feature-wise, StorTrends is designed to result in a NAS box comparable with, say, Snap Appliance's Guardian 4100 and Dell's PowerVault 725N, says Michael Patellis, national sales manager at AMI.

Zetta Server, meanwhile, doesn't support MacOS clients, but it does support snapshots (up to 128 in the Advanced version, but only one in Zetta Server Lite) and asynchronous replication over the LAN (Zetta Server Standard), or WAN (Zetta Server Advanced).

These sorts of features makes it possible to use Zetta Server in environments that would typically see high-end NetApp or EMC NAS boxes, says Bob Cartwright, president of Dimension Systems, a systems integrator in Woodinville, WA, whose company is using the software to build "an EMC and NetApp killer," he says. With Zetta Server, Dimension Systems is able to sell a 6TB high-end NAS box for about $100,000, compared with $150,000 to $200,000, the price range from the competition.

In fact, the only thing Zetta Server doesn't do compared with, say, a NetApp filer, is clustering, says Sanjay Anand, vice president of operations at "Napster alternative" MusicNet Inc., in New York, NY. MusicNet is using Zetta Server Advanced as a nearline backup unit, running on a new Intel Xeon-based server with 4TB of ATA disk space. The whole unit cost about $10,000 and has been online and stable for several months. A comparable NetApp box would cost five times that, Anand says.

Standalone NAS software also appeals to people that "need to increase their storage capacity but have excess hardware lying around," says AMI's Patellis. And judging from the number of inquiries AMI receives about StorTrends, that's a lot of people. AMI also sells a preconfigured NAS unit based on its software, but the company receives more inquiries about the standalone software; the ratio is about 3 to 1, Patellis reports.

Of course, for many storage managers, the whole point of NAS is that you can just plug it in and it works--no installation or configuration required. But according to MusicNet's Anand, installing Zetta Server was no trouble at all: "It was a piece of cake--a fool could do it."

This was first published in July 2003

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