NAS Gateways Allow VARs To Integrate SAN And NAS
Forget the arguments about which is better, SANs (storage area networks) or NAS (network attached storage). Today's end users want both and are looking to you to integrate them.
When NAS (network attached storage) solutions began hitting the market a few years ago, they were seen as simple storage solutions. Instead of buying another server to meet data growth needs, customers could purchase an appliance specifically designed for storage. They were easy to use and understand. But customers are now integrating their SAN (storage area network) and NAS solutions and demanding open systems, turning to their integrators to help them bring the two together. One of the bigger markets for NAS is in small- to medium-sized businesses.
"Some significant changes have taken place at the entry level," says Jim Holley, director of NAS marketing at EMC Corp. (Hopkinton, MA). "Two or three years ago, that market was dominated by proprietary NAS solutions. We believe those solutions have been going by the wayside fairly quickly. Windows-powered NAS is becoming a dominant player. It is taking over the entry-level market and is actually trying to move into more of a mid-tier type of solution."
Holley believes the mid-tier market is also becoming an interesting place. Much of the increasing demand for mid-tier solutions has been coming through the VAR channel. Many mid-tier customers are performing storage consolidations and looking into integrated solutions. "These customers are looking for more functionality that was previously available only in higher-end products. They also want increased scalability, increased capacity, more disaster recovery type capabilities, and easy ways to make those solutions highly available," says Holley.
To meet customer needs, VARs are looking for integrated solutions. They want SAN and NAS solutions together, and they want the two to be seamlessly integrated. The solutions also have to be scalable, so customers can start small and grow solutions with their needs. They also want another way to replicate data between SAN and NAS. "Customers are trying to take advantage of many applications that have both SAN and NAS components," adds Holley. "We are seeing more and more of that every day."
Customers Move To NAS Gateways
With customers needing NAS and SAN solutions that can work together, Jeff Hornung, VP of marketing and business development for Spinnaker Networks (Pittsburgh), has seen the NAS market moving to NAS gateways, also known as NAS head units. "If you go back 18 months, this product category did not exist," he says. "Customers wanting NAS capabilities had to buy a complete NAS system. But now there is a huge movement to NAS gateways, which allow customers to use their existing storage resources for both block and file data movement by putting a NAS head in front of them." IBM, EMC, and Spinnaker are all producing NAS heads.
For VARs, NAS gateways present a great opportunity because customers can now add NAS functionality to the SAN they may already have. "This is something customers have been asking for, and it makes a good business model for VARs," says Hornung. "It opens new markets for resellers as they can now sell enterprise NAS solutions. If a VAR is selling SAN today, this could be a great up-sell. VARs can easily allow customers to add file services in addition to the block services they already have. This is also a solution resellers can take to their installed base. VARs can go back to customers they have already sold a SAN to and now offer them file services as well. The customer no longer has to add a stand-alone NAS box."
ATA Makes Storing Data Online More Affordable
There are many reasons for customers wanting both SAN and NAS in their storage infrastructures. One of the reasons is that customers are bringing more and more data online. The ability of end users to store more data online has been made possible by lower-cost ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives. "This is becoming more prevalent with many of the vendors in the industry," says Jeff Allen, SVP of marketing for BlueArc Corp. (San Jose, CA). "Customers need to reduce their costs, both for the acquisition of storage solutions and the long-term maintenance of the systems. But at the same time, customers want to move more data online. Customers have servers with different types of storage attached. They also have nearline solutions. Data has to be moved between them. Customers clearly want to store data more cost effectively and have better access to that data as well."
According to Allen, data that had been stored on tape is now being brought back online. Customers have started using ATA disks for their nearline storage and are copying their data from the online data repository to a nearline ATA storage solution. The data is still being stored on disk, but it is not physically on the main online data set. The data being stored on ATA is a copy of the data that exists somewhere else.
Profit From New NAS Opportunities
Leonard Iventosch, VP of Americas channel sales for Network Appliance (Sunnyvale, CA), agrees that the opportunity for nearline storage is growing. Although the storage market as a whole is not growing rapidly, NAS is an area where VARs are still seeing a lot of action. "The message we are taking to the market, through our partners, is one of a unified storage strategy," says Iventosch. "NAS is an important component of that. We really need to concentrate on solving customer problems. We used to get into arguments with customers over whether they needed a SAN or a NAS solution. Now we try and avoid those arguments and just solve their problems, regardless of the technology."
Iventosch believes vendors and VARs need to be consultants to customers. Many customers have already invested a lot of money, people, and resources into a SAN infrastructure. Telling them to switch to a NAS infrastructure does not solve problems. The strategy is also good for VARs. NAS is no longer plug and play. Partners need to be able to sell both SAN and NAS technologies and add services to them as well.