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NetApp launches first-of-its-kind SAN/NAS hybrid

Network Appliance has launched a first-of-its-kind product that offers simultaneous access to data in SAN and NAS devices. But the hybrid device is more than just a filer with a Fibre Channel interface.

NEW YORK - Network Appliance on Tuesday officially launched its highly anticipated SAN/NAS hybrid, the FAS900 series. In addition to offering traditional file-serving capabilities, the FAS900 can also serve up blocks over a Fibre Channel SAN, making it the first of its kind in an industry that is beginning to demand the convergence of storage area networks and networked attached storage.

NetApp has taken a dramatically different approach than the competition to the issue of NAS/SAN convergence. Through a revamping of its proprietary operating system Data ONTAP and Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL), the FAS900 manages both NAS volumes and SAN LUNs, and includes capabilities such as the ability to allocate storage between the two, to dynamically expand LUNs, and to take snapshots of LUNs.

The FAS900 series marks the company's first foray into the world of block-level storage, and like Cisco's MDS900 Fibre Channel switch before it, the move represents a tacit admission that Fibre Channel is a potent force that isn't going away anytime soon.

NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven said that already roughly two-thirds of the company's customers have both NAS and SAN. Until now, customers that wished to consolidate NAS and SAN storage have had to turn to a "NAS head" solution from the competition, such as EMC's Celerra, IBM's TotalStorage NAS 300G and Auspex's NSc3000.

The FAS900 line currently includes two systems, the FAS960 and FAS940. The new FAS960 can support up to 32T bytes clustered, while the FAS940 can hold 18T bytes in a cluster. Protocol support includes the usual NFS, CIFS, and HTTP, but also FCP. Eventually, DAFS will be supported as well.

The venerable F800 series is getting a facelift, too, with the addition of the new F825 which, along with the F880, can also be configured to support Fibre Channel. Also new on NetApp's hardware roster is a 7T byte NearStore R100, an ATA-based array that was previously only available with a minimum of 12T bytes.

NetApp's goal with the new FAS900 is to port the ease-of-use it built into its NAS filers to the SAN world.

"There's a common misperception that NAS is simple," Warmenhoven said. "NAS isn't simple. NetApp's filers make it simple."

Concerns that NetApp is only a NAS company are overstated, said Keith Brown, NetApp's director of technology and strategy.

"People think that NetApp is synonymous with NAS," he says. "But what we really beat the drum for is simplicity – the appliance."

Software applications that support the new filer family include SyncMirror; SnapDrive 2.0 block-level mirroring software for Windows, which is at the heart of the company's SnapManager for Exchange products; and Virtual File Manager file-level virtualization software for Windows, which was developed by Houston-based NuView.

In conjunction with the FAS900, NetApp also announced management software DataFabric Manager 2.1 and is working with AppIQ to develop a CIM/Bluefin provider. Management software vendors that are working with NetApp include BMC, CA, and Precise Software. Third parties – including EMC – that want to include the FAS900 into their management fold can do so ("with no fee," Warmenhoven insisted) through a suite of open APIs.

This initial release, however, doesn't have the level of interoperability that some had expected. It has limited HBA support and no HP-UX or AIX operating system compatibility. Warmehoven admitted that if he could have changed one thing about this release it would have been to include "more HBAs."

Indeed, NetApp's competitors consider its poor interoperability matrix a real Achilles' heel. For now, the FAS900 is only good news for existing NetApp customers, says Mark Amelang, director of marketing at Auspex. But it offers a proprietary approach, he said: "All the disk is part of their box." In contrast, Auspex NsC3000 "works with anybody's storage."

EMC's Chuck Hollis, vice president of markets and products, meanwhile, feels that NetApp may have underestimated the difficulties associated with developing high-end SAN.

"SAN is harder than they think," Hollis said, listing management, interoperability, and performance concerns. "We wish them luck."

Alex Barrett is Storage magazine's trends editor.

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