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Startups Have Bigger, Faster Alternatives to Traditional NAS

NAS startups beating on the big boys

According to recent data from Gartner Inc., IT departments continue to buy more network-attached storage (NAS), with total NAS revenues increasing by 11.9% in 2003. And in the high end, those NAS dollars continue to go to market leaders Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) and EMC Corp.

But that dynamic may be about to change, now that there are other high-performance NAS startups on the scene, including BlueArc, Spinnaker Systems and as of last month, Isilon Systems and Panasas.

Not so long ago, "what were your choices if you needed a [Network Appliance] 940 or 960 class system?" asks Jeff Hornung, vice president of marketing at Spinnaker Networks, in Pittsburg, PA. The answer? "Nothing."

According to Hornung, Spinnaker earned some impressive sales this past quarter, with systems shipping to major financial institutions, oil and gas outfits, a semi-conductor manufacturer and the entertainment industry. The company is witnessing 100% quarter over quarter growth, selling a 50/50 mix of diskless (gateway) and complete NAS arrays, he claims.

Another NAS vendor to open its doors to business last month was Isilon, with the release of its Isilon IQ, a clustered NAS array designed for storing digital content. Based on commodity serial ATA (SATA) and Gigabit Ethernet hardware, the Isilon IQ system runs the company's proprietary OneFS clustered file system, which delivers features such as automatic content migration and flexible file protection, where an administrator can dynamically change an individual file's RAID protection level. A minimum three-node cluster provides a 4.3TB file system, and 1.7Gb/s throughput. A fully loaded Isilon IQ rack scales to a 30.2TB file system and 10.1Gb/s throughput.

Out of the shoot, Isilon announced several customers, including Paramount Digital Entertainment, the ResearchChannel and the University of Washington Medical Center.

Panasas, meanwhile, came out with a bang, breaking a record for the single biggest NAS sale, previously held by BlueArc. Los Alamos Laboratories has purchased and installed 120TB in a Panasas ActiveScale Storage Cluster, with the option to buy another 500+ TB over the next couple of years. Like Isilon's IQ, Panasas array is also built around clustering and SATA. For now, Panasas is focused on clustered, bladed Linux environments, but plans to expand to more commercial environments over time.

Where are market leaders EMC and NetApp amidst all this news? Making much less riveting product announcements, but which will arguably apply to a broader range of storage users.

EMC announced major enhancements to its NS600 NAS platform, including a gateway version (the NS600G), and an entry-level model (NS600S), which runs on a single "data mover" to the NS600's usual two. The NS600S is also available in a gateway format (NS600SG). EMC also entered the departmental level NAS space, with its NetWin, which runs Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003, and sits atop of EMC's Clariion CX200.

NetApp, meanwhile, finally took time out to formally announce its FAS200 series, its entry-level model that blends file and block storage. The family consists of three models: the FAS250, FAS270 and FAS270c (clustered). The FAS250 supports the standard NAS protocols (NFS, CIFS and HTTP) plus iSCSI and supports up to 1TB capacity via 36GB, 72GB or 144GB Fibre Channel drives. The FAS270, meanwhile, supports up to 4TB.

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