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A new tack

A variety of new approaches are emerging for SAN-NAS convergence. Here are some of the options.

A variety of new approaches are emerging for SAN-NAS convergence. For example, Z-Force, Santa Clara, CA, offers a NAS file switch that fronts multiple NAS devices to allow companies to scale NAS storage and performance to significant heights. Z-Force claims that its ZX-1000 File Switch can support up to 256 NAS devices and a maximum capacity of 1.5 petabytes. While the company originally concentrated on being a unifying point for heterogeneous NAS environments, industry analyst, Arun Taneja of the Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA, says Z-Force has shifted its focus to the fast-growing market of Windows-powered NAS devices, which lack the designed-in scalability of leading NAS solutions.

Pittsburgh-based Spinnaker Networks is also trumpeting NAS scalability. The company employs a sophisticated distributed files system in its SpinServer 4100 and SpinServer 3300 NAS devices to deliver a highly scalable clustered NAS environment. The file system enables Spinnaker to present multiple NAS boxes in a cluster as a single, logical volume. Like Z-Force, Spinnaker says it is able to significantly scale performance by clustering multiple devices.

It's an approach companies are warily considering. Mike Austin, systems programmer at the University of Vermont (UVM), says his department is considering a NAS deployment. Currently, UVM employs a distributed file system as part of IBM's Distributed Computing Environment, enabling the university to provide shared, file-based access to data stored on the SAN. When IBM announced it would discontinue the file system in 2004, Austin's team began looking at alternatives, including equipment from NetApp and others. Austin singles out Spinnaker Networks--and its distributed file system--as the current front-runner.

"We need to come up with some other method to network-export files from our SAN, and Spinnaker seems to be a very reasonable way of doing that," says Austin, who says that the Spinnaker SpinFS file system is based on the same foundation as the IBM file system currently deployed at UVM.

The concern, he says, is that Spinnaker is a new company with no track record providing solutions to the enterprise. "We have until next summer," says Austin, adding: "we'll watch them for six months and see if they are a good solution."

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