Gateway to a new breed of storage

The convergence of storage networking technologies is happening in several different ways, but the most prevalent approach is through the use of NAS gateways that connect to a SAN on the back end

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It's no secret that Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Networked Attached Storage (NAS) are coming together as one, but can SAN and NAS work hand-in-hand to put the bits and bytes where they belong?

The future of NAS is a bigger, faster box
While NAS and SAN are headed toward a future as a hybrid, the days of NAS as its own form of storage are upon us and will be for some time.

So what does the future hold for NAS technology?

The Evaluator Group Inc., Greenwood Village, Colo., said NAS will get bigger and faster.

The speed increase will primarily come from using TCP/IP accelerators and using DAFS as a technology for NAS, said partner and senior analyst Randy Kerns. "There will be more intelligence - primarily in management aggregation and scaling through adding additional units that are represented as a single entity with distributed data," he said.

In the traditional NAS space, it will take a long time for an infrastructure to change. "This is a very cost sensitive area and will be very, very slow to move to 10Gbyte or InfiniBand. Don't bet on either being a major deployment for NAS for some time," he said.

Kerns also warned that the confusion around where NAS and SAN play in networked storage environments will linger because of a lack of understanding of the customer's needs.

"There are marketing people for certain companies aiding and abetting the confusion. The real issue is that salesmen don't understand when to sell a customer one or the other unless they really understand the customer environment," said Kerns.

Kevin Komiega

Rising costs and exploding amounts of data in the enterprise are all contributing factors in the convergence of storage networking technologies.

Randy Kerns, SAN and NAS analyst for the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Evaluator Group Inc., said convergence is happening in several different ways, but the most prevalent approach is through the use of NAS gateways that connect to a SAN on the back end.

A gateway is a network point that acts as an entrance to another network. The NAS gateway acts as an entrance point for IP users to the SAN.

"Convergence is happening, but there is several different ways it is occurring so the definition of convergence means different things to different people," said Kerns. "Certainly NAS gateways with SAN storage attached is there now and will soon integrate into overall storage management software."

NAS appliances are used for file-based storage and are typically connect to a common network while a SAN operates on a block level and is a network unto itself.

Kerns said hybrid SAN/NAS systems can bring centralized management and control capabilities to the overburdened storage professional.

In the latter part of 2001 several storage vendors hoped to usher in the era of SAN/NAS convergence by bringing NAS gateways to the market.

Hitachi Data Systems, through a deal with Network Storage Solutions, debuted a line of storage appliances designed to act as front-ends to existing storage arrays - the Thunderbolt NASEngine, MicroStorII and GT rack-mounted systems. HDS said the NAS boxes include both NAS and SAN topologies within the same pool of centrally managed storage.

Network Appliance released Snap Manager for Exchange, which NetApp's CEO Dan Warmenhoven calls an "early version of a future SAN/NAS hybrid."

Warmenhoven stated at the time of the product release that the lines between the two storage networking technologies will blur so much over the next few years that the distinction between the two models will fade away.

IBM entered the fray with the TotalStorage NAS --> 0G, which connects clients and servers on an IP network to Fibre Channel storage, bridging the gap between LAN storage needs and SAN storage capacities, Big Blue said.

Upcoming advances in NAS technologies like the Direct Access File System (DAFS) protocol and TCP/IP offload engines will continue to give the appliances more SAN-like performance, management and security. But the industry leaders are betting that accessing SAN data through a NAS Gateway is where the technology is headed.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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