NAS: The Right Appliance For Storage
Some VARs continue to sell servers to customers requiring additional storage. But the convenience, simplicity, and efficiency of NAS (network attached storage) will cause that trend to change.
Would you ever use your oven to toast a couple of slices of bread? Most people would not. While an oven would certainly be up to the task, it would be a classic example of overkill. Why use such a large device to accomplish a task better handled by a much smaller appliance? Four NAS (network attached storage) vendors we spoke to believe that analysis is also true when it comes to adding additional storage capacity.
"For years, whenever companies needed more storage, they would buy more servers," said Jim Simon, director of channel marketing for the NAS division at Quantum (San Jose, CA). "That is similar to using an oven to toast two slices of bread. Then came the idea of an appliance, a specialized and slimmed-down device that was designed for storage."
NAS appliances were designed to do one thing and to do it very well: provide additional storage capacity. "It is a specialized device, not a jack-of-all-trades," said Simon. "We surveyed VARs in 1998 and pitched this product to them. All of their customers needed additional storage, and there were only two ways to add capacity." One option was a hard drive upgrade, which was painful and meant opening up the server. According to Simon, most VARs opted to leave the original server up and running and simply purchase a new server.
Networked Storage Continues To Grow
That trend has been changing quite rapidly. Wayne Arvidson, director of marketing and communications at Maxtor Corp. (Milpitas, CA), sees direct attached storage (DAS) diminishing as more customers move to networked storage, namely NAS and SAN (storage area networks). "Both NAS and SAN are growing at an aggressive rate," he said. "The DAS market is declining about 13% per year while the NAS market is expected to grow at a 27% compounded annual growth rate between now and 2005."
Why the healthy growth in NAS? According to Arvidson, NAS gives customers more bang for their buck. "With NAS, customers are not buying a lot of server overhead that they don't need," he said. "Also, the fact that NAS appliances can sit on a LAN or a WAN [wide area network] makes them flexible. They can sit almost anywhere and still be available to everybody on the network." Aggregation is also a benefit of NAS devices. A user can purchase a NAS device and aggregate a number of servers to it, making management a lot easier for system administrators.
While the benefits of NAS are readily apparent, differences between the products are not so obvious. David Vaughn, product manager of NAS at IBM Corp. (Armonk, NY), believes the hardware is virtually the same from one company to the next. "You generally have Pentium processors, and every manufacturer gets their drives from pretty much the same few suppliers," he said. Vaughn believes NAS vendors need to differentiate themselves by how they manage the products and the data that resides in them.
Same Hardware, Different Management
"The trend we see is that customers are not asking about the hardware, because the physical product is pretty much the same," he said. "When talking to customers, we spend most of our time talking about the various levels of management. There are many different levels, from managing the box itself to actually managing data." Vaughn stated that end users want to know information such as what kind of files are being saved and which applications are using the most storage. Administrators need to keep their storage under control, and he believes the focus for VARs and vendors should be on making administrators' jobs easier.
The capacity of NAS appliances has also been increasing quite dramatically. Vaughn noted that a big NAS product used to be a couple hundred gigabytes. Now users can purchase a NAS with double-digit terabytes.
Build Margins With NAS Controllers
If you're considering selling NAS appliances but are concerned about the hardware margins, Jeffrey Kattar, business development manager at Inception Technologies (Andover, MA), recommends you look into NAS controllers. "In the high-end NAS market you have companies that are not really channel focused," he said. "In the small- to medium-sized market, the products are closed-box, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kinds of solutions. Unfortunately, there is not much a VAR can do with that type of appliance. Since these products are offered at distributors, they are also available on the Web for a couple of points over what the VAR channel can get them for."
NAS controllers will fit inside a standard tower and add flexibility to the solution, allowing VARs to sell solutions their customers need. "The controller allows VARs to add devices into the solution, such as CD-R, DVD-R, and tape," said Kattar. "They can actually build a solution around the NAS controller. The controller is also a CD and DVD server that allows users to cache multiple CD and DVD volumes to hard disk. So technically it is both a hard disk NAS box and a CD/DVD server simultaneously."
Regardless of the type of solution you offer, the opportunities for NAS installations will continue to grow. Simon believes NAS appliances are going to be put to ever more specialized uses. For example, combining NAS with e-mail archiving software will be a hot opportunity.