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SAN, NAS converge with new NetApp releases

Customers and industry experts say price and the ability to manage SAN and NAS in one platform could give NetApp's new SAN boxes an edge.

Competition among the big boys is only getting tougher with the announcement by Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) of two new mammoth SAN boxes, the FAS6030 and the FAS6070 arrays, which can support more than 1,000 drives. Though NetApp is known primarily as a NAS specialist, industry analysts say with this release the technological lines between SAN and NAS could blur along with industry differentiators.

"There's no reason why [NetApp] can't compete in the world of SANs," said Arun Taneja, founder and senior analyst with the Taneja Group. "EMC [Corp.] and NetApp started from different points and inched their way over to the other side."

However, Taneja cautioned, "this puts them in the high end of the midrange. But they still don't necessarily compete with the highest end of Symmetrix, for example." Analyst Steve Duplessie, founder of the Enterprise Strategy Group, said that while NetApp is not known for SAN, a large percentage of NetApp users run SAN services along with NAS and on their high-end filers, and "a growing number" run SAN alone.

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"The new box makes them the king of capacity -- for now, there is always a bigger mousetrap on the horizon," he added, saying that being able to consolidate both SAN and NAS not only on a common platform, but on a single system, "has obvious appeal."

SAN and NAS in a single frame in itself is not unique -- EMC, Pillar Data Systems, the partnership between 3Par Data Inc. and OnStor Inc., Xiotech Corp. and others already support mixed SAN and NAS. "What is unique about the NetApp approach is that they are doing it not via product packaging and cabinetry, but via a single operating system/storage product set," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group.

Taneja also pointed out that the performance boost on both the NAS and SAN sides of the box was of interest. "It's almost twice the performance of NetApp's previous high-end box, the FAS980," he said.

Taneja also pointed out that NetApp's filers come with only one type of back end, whereas EMC has two very distinct back ends to couple with its Celerra NAS head -- Symmetrix and Clariion -- each of which comes with different software tools and features. "One could argue NetApp has a more unified architecture," he said.

"For high-end customers the appeal is the cost per terabyte (TB), which is quite a bit lower on the new NetApp [than other large systems]," according to Rich de Brino, chief information officer at Advances In Technology, a healthcare IT services provider. De Brino said price was probably the chief reasons the new boxes could turn customers' heads.

De Brino said he was already considering the new box for implementation in the next year. "It's about time NetApp got in the game on the higher end," he said. "Frankly, they needed a Fibre Channel (FC) product."

NetApp has previously released products that can be used as either iSCSI or FC, but according to the company's official statistics, only about one third of the products it ships have the FC option. Of those, about two thirds are actually used for FC -- only about one fifth of NetApp's total volume.

De Brino said the new NetApp boxes could fit into his environment as the back end for a Patient Information System and Electronic Medical Record software. "Our current solution for those systems is an HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.] MSA [Modular Smart Array] and is working just fine," he said. "But if I replaced it, I would go with the NetApp."

Martin Cooper, Chief Technology Officer with engineering consultancy Arup, said he is looking at the FAS6000 series for high-performance applications. He said so far the appeal of NetApp's announcement is that they can now do FC SAN, IP SAN, CIFS and NAS in one box. "No other technology we have seen gives you the utilization rates we can achieve with NetApp, I'm not just talking disk space, but people utilization also," he said.

"The NetApp platform has been regarded as one of, if not the most, stable in many IT shops so they have earned the benefit of the doubt in most shops," Duplessie said. "I think they are going to surprise us all with just how many folks are putting up big SAN implementations on these boxes."

The release has been overtly framed by NetApp as a "challenge to the largest storage competitors for data center leadership." The FAS 6030 and FAS 6070 arrays boast capacities of up to 420 TB and 504 TB respectively, and support up to 16 FC ports. Both new arrays support FC drives ranging from 9 GB to 300 GB and SATA drives of up to 500 GB. The FAS6030 is priced from U.S. $131,600 for 1 TB of storage, and the FAS6070 starts at $195,225 with 1 TB of storage.

The specifications on the new boxes put it ahead of EMC's DMX-3000 range, which scales up to 576 disks and exceeds the 480-drive capacity of the new Clarion CX3 series disk arrays launched by EMC this week.

The 6000 series arrays are also positioned to target EMC's highest-end box, the Symmetrix. "Unlike … the EMC Symmetrix, the FAS6000 has a modular storage design, making it easier to deploy 'as needed' to increase business agility and reduce costs," the company said in a press release.

The FAS6000 also incorporates NetApp's new FlexShare softare, which maintains consistent workload performance and allows administrators to set and change priorities of various data sets. The software is part of the new NetApp Manageability Software product line, which includes four sets of management tools targeted at specific administrators in the data center: application, server, data and storage. NetApp also announced new services, including Rapid Deployment Services for Storage Implementation.

NetApp takes its lumps and keeps fighting

NetApp took some bruises in the public eye earlier this quarter, especially at Storage Networking World (SNW) in San Diego, where several users spoke publicly about replacing NetApp with newer technologies. NetApp appeared to be losing ground at the high end, as well as among its traditional customer base after delivering its new OS, dubbed Ontap GX, has stalled. (See also, NetApp under attack at SNW, April 7.)

"As NetApp moves more and more into the domain where EMC, IBM, HDS [Hitachi Data Systems] and HP [place] their midrange arrays, so too has EMC moved into the NAS space dominated by NetApp," Schulz said.

Taneja pointed out that the delays with GX are still harmful to the company. "For the time being, they're holding the water from coming through the dike, but it's going to become a really big issue if they do not productize this Spinnaker product line -- and all of it -- not just GX. This is giving the newer players a nice, juicy foothold in the market."

More recently, the results of the Diogenes Labs-Storage magazine Quality Award for NAS put HDS not only on top for enterprise SAN products, but it also ousted NetApp from the top spot in its traditional strength, enterprise NAS.

However, as rated by Storage readers, "NetApp has the most compelling total NAS product line from top to bottom," according to the survey report (HDS wins enterprise NAS, May 1).

NetApp has also shown aggressiveness in releasing new products to directly compete with other industry titans in their strongholds, including a virtual tape library (VTL) product that clearly targeted EMC's Clariion Disk Library. (See also, NetApp goes after EMC with new VTL, Feb. 6).

"People still think of them primarily as a file system player," Taneja said. "They don't have so much a technological challenge as a marketing challenge."

At least one of NetApp's competitors is ready for battle. "NetApp's announcement essentially says they're supporting more drives behind an existing architecture," said Barry Ader, EMC Senior Director of CLARiiON Product Marketing. "NetApp isn't announcing any architectural changes that take advantage of new technologies - such as 4Gb/sec - that address the scalable performance requirements of the mid-tier."

NetApp may also face Sun when trying to spread its all-in-one message, according to Brad Nisbet, program manager, storage systems with IDC. "Sun is targeting the very same concept in terms of ideal data management--it's not just about storage, it's about data and data management," he said.

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