Feature

The end of NAS as we know it

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You've read all the predictions about how file storage will bury our data centers in a few years. How to cope? Probably not with NAS.

All indications are that file storage will consume the vast majority of disk capacity in the coming years. IDC research recently forecasted that file data will eclipse all other data types by a 6-to-1 ratio in terms of capacity consumption by the year 2014. My work with large IT organizations verifies this, as they already have petabytes of file storage and alarming growth rates. Is this good news for network-attached storage (NAS) vendors? Maybe. While this growth will temporarily drive interest in and acquisition of NAS systems, it will ultimately lead to a shift in how we implement, manage and protect file storage.

It's unrealistic to believe that having dozens, hundreds and (in the not-so-distant future) thousands of NAS systems is sustainable. One company I'm working with has more than 600 NAS systems, and based on its growth, that count will double in the next couple of years. Think about the millions of dollars spent on hardware, software, backup, maintenance fees, migrations, professional services and operations. And the costs will continue to rise inevitably and perpetually.

Scale-out NAS will play a major role in the new NAS landscape, but it's not a panacea. What's needed is better file management to provide control and capabilities that live "above" and independently of the data storage infrastructure.

The

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demise of NAS won't be complete nor will it occur overnight. Rather, it will happen over time and in stages.

The biggest inefficiency (and main money drain) in file storage is dormant data. IT professionals universally agree that 60% to 80% of their file data hasn't been accessed in a year or more. And that stale, unused data often sits on tier 1 NAS. Migrating dormant files to tier 3 NAS could save millions of dollars and reduce operational complexities. If only 20% of file data is active at any given time, then reducing your tier 1 NAS storage by 60% to 80% would have an immediate and major impact on your data center. If you have 100 NAS systems, you could reduce that number to 20 to 40. Yes, you may still have to acquire tier 3 NAS, but those systems cost significantly less than tier 1 boxes and you can change your protection and management policies appropriately to further reduce costs.

Another important issue is that not all file data is stored on NAS. There are a growing number of files that reside within content management systems like SharePoint. Additionally, there's a massive amount of file data stored on storage-area network (SAN) storage that's either front-ended by file servers or with local file systems. There are also files being stored on direct-attached storage (DAS). And as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) grows in popularity, there will be an increasing number of "local" client files residing on block storage. To compound matters, all the issues related to file storage inefficiencies -- like the huge percentage of dormant files -- also apply to these environments.

What's needed is a file management solution that can discover and identify dormant data and move it from tier 1 to tier 3 storage transparently, reliably and quickly. And it must be able to replicate and recover data at a file level.

I'm not proposing an archiving solution; IT professionals don't want stubs that consume addressing space and break during NAS migrations. What's truly needed is a solution that migrates files and requires a remount with new shares. Yes, that may be a little inconvenient, but it's well worth it -- especially if you're moving dormant files because no one is accessing them anyway!

How does this spell doom for NAS? Migrating dormant files to lower tiers reduces the investment in tier 1 NAS by up to 80%. The company I mentioned earlier with 600 tier 1 NAS systems can get down to 120 tier 1 boxes, resulting in millions of dollars in savings and putting a stop to the ridiculous number of NAS systems that will have to be bought and managed going forward.

As time goes by, the strategic significance of tier 1 NAS will be reduced, and less and less file data will be stored on them. NAS will become NFS and CIFS appliances focused more on scalability, ease of use and cost effectiveness. Also, file servers with local storage, SAN-attached file servers, SAN-attached local file systems, VDI clients and CMS systems will grow in size. And intelligent file management platforms will play an increasingly valuable role in managing file data across all these systems for the entire data center and the cloud.

What's missing are the file management solutions, but they're coming. But more importantly, we need a new way of thinking about how to solve the growth of file storage because throwing more storage infrastructure at the problem is untenable.

BIO: Tony Asaro is senior analyst and founder of Voices of IT.

This was first published in February 2011

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