NAS -- different products for different market segments

NAS -- different products for different market segments

Randy Kerns
Partner, the Evaluator Group
Randy Kerns is a partner at the Evaluator Group and is responsible for storage area networks (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) analysis and education as well as company and product strategies. He has over twenty-eight years storage product development, including work for IBM, Fujitsu, Vice President of Engineering at the Array Technology subsidiary of Tandem Computers and Director of Engineering for Enterprise Disk at Storage Technology Corporation.
Many new NAS products have been announced recently that cover the entry level of the market segments. There are others aimed at different segments that have been announced or are imminent. I get asked quite often about why so many products and why does a vendor offer ones that seem to overlap. There are different market segments for NAS and those different market segments have different requirements on the products. In general the differences in the products fit into several areas:

1. Performance -- Which is related to several factors:

  • a. The number of connections (Gig-E or 10/100 base-t)
  • b. The processor speed to handle the remote file serving
  • c. The amount of cache memory
  • d. The backend disk (and interface connection) speed
  • 2. Availability -- Higher-end market segments require failover capability that results in both additional cost for the capability and a substantial investment when the hardware is purchased.

    3. Management -- Is there some aggregation tool to manage multiple NAS devices?

    4. Capacity -- The amount and scalability is usually different for the different environments. Being able to add beyond a certain amount represents extra costs in the product.

    5. Features/functions -- The functions of snapshot, rollback, mirroring (local and remote), integration with certain applications (databases, mail software, etc.) and others are defining items for the higher end of the market segments and those capabilities also represent costs in development and testing even when not purchased by the customer. Typically they are purchased separately but the entry-level systems may not have them at all which simplifies development (and test) and can reduce the price.

    It is a fairly simple argument why there are different products for NAS. The different characteristics can serve the different requirements of each market segment. One size could indeed fit all but the issue would be price. To compete on price will dictate the characteristics be different. So, it is logical for vendors to offer products with different characteristics -- even fundamentally different designs. The most obvious example of recent announcements are the EMC ones where they have a Windows Storage Server 2003 based product, a product that's built around CLARiiON and still offers the very high end Celerra with Symmetrix storage. Those products are significantly different and designed to address different customers.

    A vendor offers many devices that do overlap somewhat. This isn't new with NAS products and has been true for storage devices since inception. The overlap makes sense in that the customer is given some flexibility in which solution fits the needs best. There may be some scaling limits that change (especially with capacity) that is very important to a customer. Hewlett Packard and Network Appliance both have multiple products that will solve the same customer needs -- meaning there are products that overlap. The products aren't identical and there are reasons from the customer standpoint to buy one vs. another. That boils down to figuring out what the requirements are and fitting the solution to meet the requirements with the budget. Oh yes, there will be price differences but that's part of doing the evaluation to get the right product at the right price.

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