NAS Moves To Midrange
NAS. What's to understand? You plug it in and it works, right? Sure, but if you know NAS' advantages and the direction of the market, these experts say you'll be selling like crazy.
Business Solutions' last "Understanding NAS" (network attached storage) column (April 2001) noted that many people were confused about the difference between NAS and SAN (storage area networks). Now, most people know what NAS is and there's talk about the convergence of NAS and SAN. But as a review, NAS is an appliance. It's just a little more complicated than plugging in your refrigerator. But the same way your refrigerator stores your food, a NAS appliance stores your customers' data.
The NAS device, or appliance, takes the storage burden off of servers. NAS appliances are dedicated to the storage of data and the sharing of files. They don't run many applications like a general purpose server, and they don't manage a network. They're kind of like adding a bunch of hard drives to your network, but adding processor power to it, too.
NAS Pushes Server-Attached Storage To The Back Of The Line
NAS is designed to replace server-attached storage. Joan Wrabetz, president and CEO of Tricord Systems (Plymouth, MN), gives an overview. "As a data-centric architecture that leverages existing network infrastructure and network administration skills, NAS has proved a cost-effective means to satisfy general file serving needs. NAS typically allows for multi-OS connectivity and cross-platform file sharing. It is inherent in its simplicity - reducing the costs in networking installation downtime, management, and hardware. NAS architectures provide all file and storage services, including security, through standard network protocols."
Jim Simon, director of channel marketing for Quantum Corp., adds, "Ease of installation is probably the biggest benefit. NAS can be installed in minutes by just plugging it straight into the network. Managing it is easy too. NAS devices can be managed using a standard Web browser, which lends itself to easy remote management, especially for customers that have servers in different physical locations."
Hold On - NAS Is Not Perfect
Richard Vanek, president and CEO of Excel/Meridian Data, Inc., bravely reveals that there are a few issues that NAS still has to address, though. "NAS appliances presently are not conducive to Microsoft Exchange Server or data-intensive database applications that require high I/O (input/output) levels. Also, a large proliferation of NAS devices spread throughout the network can create administrative bottlenecks. Multiple NAS devices can overload a network, reducing bandwidth and overall performance."
Wrabetz agrees that applications like e-mail and databases offer the next set of challenges for NAS vendors. She says, "NAS as back end storage for fast-growing Microsoft Exchange Server implementation will provide customers with long-needed relief in managing what has become their most storage-intensive environment. Yet, for NAS to conquer these environments, application vendors will have to ensure that their applications are network-friendly. In the server-centric model, many applications were designed to recognize only internal or direct-attached storage. As more customers embrace the NAS model, vendors are actively addressing the communication requirements for external storage."
Applications And Price Levels To Consider
Though NAS has some application challenges, there are plenty that it fits well with. Wrabetz said, "NAS today is primarily used for general file serving in a corporate environment. Some of the newer applications well suited for NAS include image archiving and image manipulation, video and audio archiving, and document management applications. These applications require large amounts of storage, but typically exist in environments that have little or no IT staff or expertise. It now appears that for many of these tasks, optical or tape storage will not be acceptable in the future. Customers complain that the media management and management cost of those solutions actually make easy-to-manage, low-cost NAS solutions less expensive."
Wrabetz adds, "NAS solutions have traditionally been polarized at the entry level and the high end of the spectrum. Low-end solutions may be easy to install and use, but they don't scale well. At the high end of the NAS space, solutions are much more scalable, but are not affordable. Multiple vendors are entering the midrange space, starting to provide products that can scale, but require a significant investment."
Vanek outlines the three market segments. "Entry level NAS pricing begins around $500 and is available to anyone. It allows simple file sharing with limited redundancy, security, and scalability. The high-end segment, beginning at $50,000, is a much smaller market with very high technical demands. Often this segment is represented by storage servers rather than appliances with scaled operating systems and proprietary interfaces. The most rapidly changing segment is the midrange NAS. It consists of units priced as low as $5,000 and as high as $50,000. The midrange NAS devices add some features that the entry level don't have, but don't have the capacity of the high-end segment."
Should You Sell NAS To Your Customers?
Frankly, you should sell NAS because you will make tons of money. At least that's what Simon says. "The low cost of NAS gives VARs the opportunity to increase the amount of their high-margin services while still providing customers with an overall lower bid. As IT budgets have been slashed in 2001, this is an ever-important advantage of NAS."
Wrabetz adds, "NAS should be part of VARs' solution offerings if they recommend storage to customers. The VAR is a consultant to the customer in determining the best solution for their storage needs. NAS will be the best option for some customers, either instead of file servers and SANs or in addition to file servers and SANs. NAS is a rapidly growing market where solutions are being deployed for existing applications, new applications, and to replace general purpose servers. As a result it presents an excellent opportunity for VARs to bring new solutions to existing customers, as well as to attract new customers whom the VAR has not been able to service before."
Economic factors have increased the need for more efficient storage and this means opportunity for NAS, says Vanek. "VARs' customers want to lower their total cost of ownership, and this has prompted a demand for NAS devices instead of adding more direct attached storage, which is more expensive. This certainly makes the NAS marketplace attractive to pursue."
The Future For NAS
Simon says, "NAS devices are certain to increase in capacity for similar prices, thereby providing an overall lower cost per gigabyte. In addition, expect to see NAS devices at the center of clustering. Multiple NAS devices working in parallel often greatly outperform larger, individual (and much more expensive) servers. Finally, look for NAS devices to become standard components in low-cost SANs instead of high-cost SCSI (small computer system interface) arrays."
Vanek says, "An important trend is the expansion of the role of the thin server/appliance through hardware and software enhancements. Midrange NAS, enterprise NAS, and SANs are slowly converging together into the true storage network. Greater interoperability between NAS and SAN will be a key to the successful implementation of the storage networks of the future. Additionally, new developments with iSCSI (Internet SCSI), InfiniBand, and other products will expand present opportunities for VARs and provide room for future growth."
Wrabetz says, "A key NAS business trend is moving toward reducing overhead in terms of total cost of ownership. Customers are starting to realize that many new applications, such as rich media and audio files, are actually storage problems, and they are seeking different ways to manage the information - ways that offer not only lower acquisition costs, but also easier service and administration over time. The industry is just beginning to develop benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of some of these new solutions, since they are looking not only at capacity and performance, but also at other key metrics such as flexibility, efficiency of integration, and total cost of ownership."Questions about this article? E-mail the author at AnnS@corrypub.com.