Tip

Network Appliance brings NAS simplicity to a SAN solution

Network Appliance made one of the most significant announcements in company history. Network Appliance entered into the Storage area network market with products and software to unify SAN and NAS. For Network Appliance, this represents a major change in philosophy and in the target markets for their products. The product announcements to support unified SAN and NAS include new fabric attached storage devices and support software. Additionally, another member of the F800 series was announced, the F825.

The new products by Network Appliance are an example of the convergence of SAN and NAS and need to be understood both from what the product capabilities and customer implications are. Equally important, is understanding how Network Appliance will market the products given the significant change from previous offerings.

Evaluator Group comments:

Network Appliance has been the leading supplier of network attached storage devices since they effectively established the market in the mid-90's. The products made initial inroads in workgroup and departmental environments and have allowed Network Appliance to grow to a billion dollar company. The recent marketing thrust enabled by product improvements has been into the small to medium business enterprise environments and also to enterprise datacenters in specific, vertical markets. Changing from the message that NAS can be used everywhere to also offer a SAN solution represents a significant shift

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by the company. The challenge is that not only is it a new market for Network Appliance, it is very often a different set of people making the decisions. SANs in the enterprise datacenter are normally deployed and managed by storage professionals while the NAS devices are oftentimes not. There certainly will be an education curve involved in dealing with this different set of people that have different requirements.

Initially, Network Appliance will focus on very specific vertical markets especially those where they've had success in selling NAS filers. This is a very good move on their part. It will give them experience and be an easier entrÉe than competing head on head with more established SAN solution providers. The initial market focus for Network Appliance will be storage consolidation -- more specifically, NT consolidation. This will be a complete solution sale with the fabric attached storage (FAS) products as a complete SAN solution (sometimes called a SAN in box).

The reasons for entering the SAN market were articulated by the Network Appliance executives -- a realization that a SAN solution with block access was necessary for some customers and they wanted to participate in that market. The enterprise datacenter market also is a higher margin business (with higher costs for product capabilities and support).

There are various market messages associated with the entry into the SAN space. Probably the most important one is that Network Appliance will bring the simplicity that they have developed for NAS into a SAN solution. There will be a great deal of criticism here from many corners but if the solution offered is viewed as a SAN in a box type of solution, there are opportunities to simplify. This leads to a market issue, however, in that additive storage (adding to an existing SAN environment) may not be well served with this solution. Indeed, it may lead to it being a SAN island. Marketing it as a consolidation solution (at least initially) fits well with the product strengths and can be shown to have a low total cost of ownership. The potential for being a SAN island will be ruthlessly attacked by competitors and should be a concern for customers that envision a heterogeneous environment for storage.

Other issues remain. It is unknown what the performance of the product will be. A storage performance council benchmark test would be necessary to position it against other storage solutions. This will be important in some environments but not others. It is unclear what the strategy of Network Appliance is in this area. Another important area for storage professionals is security. An evaluation would be needed to see if the security characteristics meet the requirements for particular types of business. Finally, a problem exists for the salesmen in understanding when to sell NAS and when to sell SAN. Even though the FAS products can be configured for either, it is the customer that must decide a priori on how to use the storage. It can be very difficult for a salesman to understand enough about a customer environment to make the correct call.

Network Appliance has been very successful with NAS and must be viewed favorably as being able to carve out a piece of the SAN market. It will be interesting to see in what environments their successes come.

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This was first published in October 2002

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