Clustered NAS systems can ease NAS management

Find out about clustered NAS systems vendors and products. We also list the advantages and disadvantages of using clustered NAS systems to ease NAS management.

What you'll learn: Find out about the clustered NAS market and available products. We also list the advantages and disadvantages of using clustered NAS systems to ease NAS management.

File storage growth is bordering on the out of control, with many companies struggling to get a handle on their network-attached storage (NAS) systems. However, technologies such as clustered NAS systems are designed to resolve many of the issues created by spreading NAS systems and to ease NAS management overall. This tip explores today's clustered NAS market and examines the advantages and disadvantages of the technology.

Clustered NAS systems explained

Clustered NAS systems use a distributed file system running concurrently on multiple NAS nodes. Data and metadata can be striped across both the cluster and underpinning block (DAS or SAN) storage subsystems. Clustering also provides access to all files from any of the clustered nodes regardless of the physical location of the file. The number and location of the nodes are transparent to the users and applications accessing them.

Although clustering appears similar to file virtualization, the key difference is that all system nodes must be from the same vendor and often configured similarly. Some exceptions to this include BlueArc Corp.'s Titan and Mercury series, and NetApp Inc.'s Ontap GX.

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Clustered NAS systems typically provide transparent replication and fault tolerance, so that if one or more nodes fail, the system continues functioning without any data loss. Clustered NAS systems are distinguished by their large file systems that can scale to hundreds of terabytes (or more) of addressable capacity.

Clustered NAS systems include BlueArc's Titan and Mercury series, EMC Corp.'s Celerra NS-960 with Multi-Path File System (MPFS), Exanet Inc.'s ExaStore, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.'s Ibrix Fusion and StorageWorks Scalable NAS (previously known as PolyServe), Hitachi Data Systems' HNAS and 3200 series, IBM Corp.'s Scale-out File Services (SoFS), Isilon Systems Inc.'s IQ, NetApp's Ontap GX, Panasas Inc.'s ActiveStor and Scale Computing's SN Series.

Advantages of clustered NAS systems

  • Linearly scale to many nodes and high capacities, with millions to billions of managed file objects; aggregate throughput and IOPS independent of one another

  • Easy to grow

  • Pay-as-you-go architecture

  • Built-in fault tolerance

  • Centralized management

  • Easy data protection

  • Simple file access

Disadvantages of clustered NAS systems

  • Rip-and-replace solution; can't reuse current NAS systems

  • No support for heterogeneous NAS systems

  • No ability to migrate files from current NAS systems to the clustered

  • Higher hardware and license costs, but may be offset by significantly lower management costs

Clustered NAS does a very good job of resolving most NAS sprawl challenges. It eliminates or at least mitigates the multisystem management issue depending on the scale of the environment. User and application access is simplified with load balancing built in, and data protection and replication is also part of the architecture. Clustered NAS does fall a little short on storage tiering; it does make it easier, but doesn't automate the process (with the exception of EMC's Celerra NS-960 with FAST using Rainfinity).

BIO: Marc Staimer is president of Dragon Slayer Consulting.

This was first published in March 2010

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