Although it's still a small segment of the storage landscape, experts say demand for high-performance NAS is expected to increase significantly due to the emergence of file-based storage and the proliferation of digital images that demand greater scalability.
According to market research firm IDC, 39% of the storage shipped in 2006 was file-based, as opposed to block based. IDC projects the amount of file-based storage to rise to 76% in 2011.
While not all file-based storage will require clustering and other high-performance systems, the types of applications demanding it are growing significantly.
Brad Nisbet, IDC's program manager for storage systems, said companies that require great scalability for capacity and performance are driving the rise of file-based storage. These include industries that deal with many digital files, such as broadcast, entertainment, medical imaging, and gas and electric exploration, as well as Internet sites that host videos or allow file sharing -- commonly referred to as Web 2.0 companies. These organizations are increasingly turning to clustered storage to meet their needs.
Nisbet says of these companies, "not only is nearly their entire data set file-based, but the value of that data is the lifeblood of that business."
"A lot of that is consumer driven," Nisbet added. "A lot of enterprises out there are reacting to a flood of file-based data generated by consumers: images, video, audio, sharing files on our phones, sending files to folks that get uploaded onto a server. Email is another driver proliferating files."
Clustered NAS vendors, such as Isilon Systems Inc. and BlueArc Corp. have sprung up primarily to serve these types of vertical industries and the more established NAS veterans are looking to get into the game. Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) rolled out its Data OnTap GX clustered operating file system, although it has been used primarily in high-performance computing environments so far. EMC is working on a product, code-named Maui, which CEO Joe Tucci describes as "well beyond a clustered file system" and is expected to be released in 2008.
Other storage vendors are following the lead of NetApp, which acquired its clustered technology by buying startup Spinnaker Networks four years ago. In 2007, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) bought clustered file system startup PolyServe Inc., Sun acquired the Lustre clustered file system and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) struck an OEM deal and took an equity stake in BlueArc. EMC Corp. also resells Ibrix Inc.'s clustered file system.
"My sense is these major vendors, who have not traditionally been strong on the file side, are trying to create and develop expertise in advanced file services for customers who have tremendous needs for scalability," Nisbet said. "If they can develop expertise there, they can eventually bring advanced file services to their customers who need it."
Enterprises are also creating clusters with file system software. The latest study from TheInfoPro (TIP) in 2007 showed that 57% of Fortune 1000 firms are using clustered file systems -- up from 7% three years ago. Symantec Corp.'s Veritas Storage Foundation Cluster File System is most often mentioned, with IBM's General Parallel File System (GPFS) and Lustre coming up, as well as system vendors NetApp, EMC, Isilon, HP, ONStor Inc. and Panasas Inc. mentioned as in use or in the planning stage.
The TIP study shows that clustered implementations will likely grow rapidly. More than a quarter of the companies using clustered file systems expect to expand deployments, and only 36% of the companies interviewed say they have no plans for clustered file systems.
"When we ask what pain points they're looking to solve, they're looking at clustered solutions to help eliminate hot spots transparently and also to help data sharing -- specifically imaging and file content for document management," said Rob Stevenson, TIP's Managing Director of Storage Research. "Applications like Documentum, Open Text and imaging for patient care change how unstructured data is used."