SAN/NAS Integration Will Open New Doors For VARs
As SANs (storage area networks) and NAS (network attached storage) continue to converge, end users will rely on the channel for the training and expertise they need.
We have heard a lot of vendors talking about SAN (storage area network) and NAS (network attached storage) convergence recently. Ray Villeneuve, VP of marketing at NAS manufacturer Network Appliance (Sunnyvale, CA), believes the convergence is a good opportunity for VARs, especially for those who target medium-sized enterprises. "In those companies, executives view the VAR community as an outsourced part of their internal IT shop," he said. "They trust their VAR to architect, configure, and support their systems, which makes SAN/NAS convergence an opportunity for the channel."
The SAN vs. NAS Question
The choice between using SAN or NAS has to do with customer applications and how those applications want to store and read data off the disk. In a SAN, blocks of data are transferred in large chunks, which is very fast. Applications that are I/O (input/output) intensive and tend to be block-based applications are better suited for SANs. ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, supply chain management systems, and some business intelligence systems fall into this category. "Traditionally, NAS applications are for desktop storage, which includes all the e-mail and messaging applications such as Lotus Notes and Exchange," Villeneuve said. "NAS is also appropriate for the whole category of storage-intensive technical applications such as software development, chip design, mechanical design, and seismic data analysis. These applications have a huge storage footprint and are a sweet spot for the NAS world."
The Convergence Force
Mark Amelang, director of marketing for NAS server manufacturer Auspex Systems (Santa Clara, CA), believes a lot of companies that have opted to go with a SAN solution did so because their IT administrators were behind it, and those administrators make the decision. But many of those companies have now had their SANs in place for two years and are realizing that it doesn't address all of their storage needs. "The SAN does everything they wanted it to do from an IT perspective," said Amelang, "but it doesn't from the perspective of the employees needing to access the data."
Amelang gave the example of a company that has a Compaq SAN being used for applications in their Windows environment, including finance, accounting, and marketing. On the engineering side of the house, there is heavy UNIX use. Those users might have their data on an EMC SAN. This leaves the company with two different SAN pools that do not talk to each other. If a bill of materials needs to be reviewed by finance, those files need to be shared, and that sharing requires a NAS environment.
NAS, of course, has its own shortcomings. In NAS, chunks of data have to be broken into small packets and the packets are then sent over an Ethernet network. That breakdown creates bottlenecks, which impact performance. "Right now NAS does not perform like a SAN, but it has more file sharing and security features," said John Hamrick, product marketing manager for RAID (redundant array of independent disks) storage manufacturer MTI Technology Corp. (Anaheim, CA). "When NAS begins to perform better and have fewer bottlenecks, you will see a lot more NAS appliances that look like a SAN implementation."
SAN And NAS Replace DAS
Direct attached storage (DAS) continues to wane as SAN and NAS gain in popularity. Today around 75% of storage is still direct attached, but analyst group Gartner predicts that by 2005 75% of all storage will be networked. With interoperability problems becoming history, more and more companies will be adopting SANs. However, true SAN and NAS convergence will not happen until the two technologies begin to meld.
There is some convergence occurring now, with several large vendors like MTI, IBM, EMC, and Hitachi having SAN and NAS in the same storage array. But heterogeneous convergence is still a dream for most end users. "The performance of NAS is the biggest problem facing SAN and NAS integration," said Hamrick. "When 10 Gigabit Ethernet and the DAFS [direct access file system] protocol become reality, NAS will be a better solution for databases. At that point there will be more of a blurring between the SAN and NAS technologies."
Hu Yoshida, VP and CTO for RAID storage manufacturer Hitachi Data Systems (Santa Clara, CA), says there is a lot of confusion for end users in the area of SAN and NAS convergence. He believes that confusion makes it even more important for VARs to have a handle on both technologies. "VARs will need to do a careful evaluation for their customers," said Yoshida. "Customers will be relying more than ever on their VARs to help them make the right choices."
One of the factors VARs will need to pay close attention to is the viability of the vendors that are releasing new products. "There are a lot of new products coming out and a lot of them are from start-up companies," said Yoshida. "Many of those companies will not survive, even if they have the best technology or product. VARs will have to take a close look at those companies. The best bet for them will be to go with solutions that are supported by the major storage vendors. That will insure they don't install a solution for a customer that will be obsolete or unsupported a year from now."
Sell Your Experience
While SAN and NAS are complex technologies for VARs, they are even more confusing for the end users. "This is an opportunity for the VARs to earn additional revenue by selling services," said Yoshida. "VARs should be providing service offerings to their customers. Those services should include presales consulting up front, training after the installation, and maintenance and services. The customer is overwhelmed. They need help understanding and sorting out those technologies."
Yoshida also recommends that VARs keep an eye on InfiniBand. In the next few years there will be a whole slew of technologies that will eliminate the bottlenecks between the application server and the storage. VARs who keep up on these new technologies will have a way to differentiate themselves from others. That will allow those VARs to solve customer problems and provide more value to those customers. That will earn you their trust, and the trust will generate lots of repeat business.