Dell's new Windows-based NAS scales to 4 TB

Standing out in a NAS world dominated by the Microsoft operating system isn't easy. But Dell hopes that recent enhancements to its entry-level NAS hardware line will separate it from the rest of the pack.

It's getting harder and harder to tell network-attached storage (NAS) boxes apart, especially when it comes to systems based on the Windows Storage Server 2003 operating system. On Monday, Dell Inc., Round Rock, Texas, tried to differentiate its network-attached storage (NAS) servers with the launch of PowerVault 745N, a 1U rack system with processor speeds of up to 3.2 GHz and storage capacity ranging from 160 GB to 4 TB. The system...

uses external SCSI-attached storage.

The 745N, which is designed to help small businesses, workgroups and branch offices meet growing storage demands, will replace Dell's own PowerVault 725N -- not to be confused with a separate line of co-branded storage products sold through a partnership with EMC Corp.

The 745N supports Windows, Linux, NetWare, Unix and Macintosh environments, as well as Dell PowerVault tape backup devices and data protection software from Veritas Software Corp. and Yosemite Technologies Inc. Pricing for the PowerVault 745N storage server starts at $1,799.

Users can take snapshot copies of their data on the 745N while Web-based management tools provide performance information and enable remote monitoring from a central console. That's standard fare these days. Is it really enough to win over NAS users?

Given that Microsoft already offers features like snapshots (Volume Shadow Copy Service), multi-pathing and print services, it's getting harder for NAS makers to separate their products from the rest of the pack.

Tom Kouri, senior associate and director of IT for RSP Architects Ltd., a design firm based in Minneapolis, plans to upgrade from his 725N NAS systems to the new PowerVault 745N. Kouri wants to implement Shadow Copy, expanded storage capacity and the faster processors supported by the PowerVault 745N.

He says it is "becoming more difficult to differentiate between the various [Microsoft-based] NAS products."

"As these devices converge and look more and more alike," Kouri said, "the decision on which product and vendor to go with rides on a vendor's reputation, service and support, as well as cost. So, with respect to NAS devices, the bottom line for us is that Dell offers the most cost-effective NAS device with the features we need. And, so far, their service and product reliability has been very good."

Kouri ultimately decided on Dell because "the Dell solution supported a product from NSI Software called Double-Take. Double-Take gave us tons of flexibility when we defined plans for replication in our overall backup and disaster recovery scheme. IBM also supported DoubleTake, but their solution was much more expensive and didn't provide the same storage capacities Dell did."

"We made our decision to go with Dell a little over a year ago. At that time we evaluated IBM, Quantum, Iomega and EMC and Dell," Kouri said.

Most of the storage industry is supporting Windows Storage Server 2003. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s StorageWorks NAS 2000s, Iomega Corp.'s NAS P400m series, Inline Corp.'s FileStorm, Maxxan Systems Inc.'s SG110m NAS gateway appliance and EMC Corp.'s NetWin 200 are but a few of the NAS products based on the Microsoft OS.

"I have long argued that, if NAS vendors are looking to differentiate themselves among others also using Storage Server 2003, it will not be easy to do so with features alone," said Brad Nisbet, a senior research analyst with International Data Corp.'s storage systems group.

Nisbet said that Dell is adding "some value to Storage Server 2003 by providing Web-user interface integration through a link with Dell software, such as server administrator, server application event logs and Dell software version information." However, he does not believe "this to be a significant differentiator," he said.

"At entry and lower-midrange levels, features are pretty much commoditized," Nisbet said. "The fruits will come when vendors work more closely with channel partners and especially application providers to sell solutions."

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