NetApp Opens Up Software

NetApp branches out.

Network Appliance software: It's not just for NetApp shops anymore. Last month, NetApp announced new versions of select software that can replicate or archive data living on non-NetApp storage. That data can be stored on the company's latest ATA-based behemoth, the NearStore R200, which scales from 8TB to 100TB.

The software, SnapVault for open systems, mirrors data managed by Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX and AIX operating systems. SnapLock, which builds write once, read many (WORM) capabilities into a disk array for compliance purposes, can also work in open-systems environments.

Together, NearStore and NetApp software such as SnapVault, are "finding their way more and more into non-NetApp environments," says Mark Santora, NetApp senior VP of marketing. "We don't have to convince customers to change their entire environment anymore," he says.

Indeed, NetApp seems to have had an epiphany "that they have to break out of their box," says John Webster, senior analyst with the Data Mobility Group. "They realize the crown jewels of the company are [its operating system] Data ONTAP and its software, and that they can't afford to be married to a single hardware platform anymore."

And as far as ATA arrays go, the NearStore R200 is "very competitive," says Steve Kenniston, an analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, "especially when you consider the software that you can use on top of it." The combination of NearStore plus open-systems software "has definitely increased NetApp's available market," he says. "It gives IT shops that have been priced out the ability to buy into the software suite."

Another sign of NetApp's new openness is its gateway product, the gFiler, which can front arrays from Hitachi Data Systems and as of last month, IBM's FastT and Shark arrays. Connecting to a back-end array over Fibre Channel (FC), front-end connections can be in the form of IP, iSCSI and even FC.

Why would you want a FC front-end connection to a network-attached storage (NAS) gateway, you ask? Good question. "It's not something that occurred to us," admits Santora. But supposedly, customers requested it as a way to get "common management" (i.e., NetApp software running across all their block-based SAN storage).

But to call NetApp a software company may still be pushing it. In an interview last month with Veritas and NetApp executives about NetApp reselling Veritas' Data Lifecycle Manager, NetApp's Patrick Rogers, vice president of alliances, put it this way: "NetApp doesn't want to sell host-based management tools." In other words, somewhere, there will always be a NetApp array on which to store data.

NetApp isn't the only NAS player that is exploring an increasingly open strategy--and it's possible that NetApp's pricing may have already alienated many customers. "They perceive that they use the exact same disk drives and charge them a whole lot more," says Ganapthy "Krish" Krishnan, CEO of Zetta Systems, which makes a software-only NAS (and soon to be SAN) server.

The new Zetta Server, to be launched later this month, adds block FC target support to NFS and CIFS. That way, by attaching Zetta Server to an FC switch, you can serve up either files or blocks to your clients, and maintain access to a single set of management applications such as snapshots and replication.

At press time, pricing for Zetta Server was still uncertain--probably under $15,000 per server, regardless of how much storage capacity sits behind it. Reception of Zetta Server has been good so far, says Krishnan. "There's a pent-up demand for it by people who feel like they are getting ripped off."

Meanwhile, London-based Xinit Systems is developing an open-source NAS solution that runs on top of Red Hat Linux. A version available under the Gnu Public License (GPL) is currently available from Later this year, an enterprise version will also be available, with features such as iSCSI target support and load balancing and failover capabilities.

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