Web services to benefit from NAS technology

A wave of recent innovations in the realm of NAS (network attached storage) is reshaping the way IT administrators view NAS devices in the network and laying the groundwork for the distributed storage devices that will support tomorrow's Web services, according to storage experts.

Unlike the SAN (storage area network) technology market, which did little more than throttle from 1Gb to 2Gb in 2001, the NAS market has been bursting with new ideas over the last six months. Innovative technology from small companies and startups such as Z-Force, Zambeel Inc., Storigen Systems Inc., BlueArc Corp. and others are adding speed, manageability, affordability, and scalability that hasn't existed before in NAS products, storage experts have observed.

Such improvements in NAS mean more easily distributed storage networks that can be grown on a budget, and companies looking to support Web services will quickly realize that these next-generation NAS systems make the ideal storage backbone for their Web-based services, according to experts.

The benefit of improved NAS technology to Web services is indirect, because the current explosion of file data required a rethinking of NAS anyway, said Steve Duplessie, the senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, in Milford, Mass. But the timing for Web services to capitalize on NAS improvements is perfect, Duplessie added.

"[Windows] NT servers are growing in number like rabbits, and 70 percent of the data on an NT server is for file serving," and because 65 percent of NAS technology is file-oriented, the drive is on to innovate in the NAS arena, said Duplessie.

Where Web services stand to gain from next-generation NAS devices is in the improved storage and delivery of "non-transactional, non-relational data" related to a Web service interaction, explained Duplessie. As the reach of Web services grows across the Internet, nontransactional data such as user preferences and service logs will be kept on next-generation NAS systems closer to the users, instead of great distances away where the transactional data base and SAN reside, Duplessie said.

"Transaction-based, time-sensitive environments will continue to be block-level SAN-type storage worlds. But there is a lot of data base stuff that is nontransactional, nonrelational data that doesn't need to be crowded on the SAN," said Duplessie.

With this model, as the user base of a particular Web service grows, storage capacity for nontransactional user data "can be added without re-architecting everything; if you want to add capacity, you just do it," said Duplessie.

Recent new NAS technologies include a NAS file switch from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Z-Force. Although the idea is still essentially on the drawing board, Z-Force's file switch should improve the scalability and manageability of NAS configurations by "bringing switching to the file environment" and eliminating the need to cluster NAS systems, according to Stephen Terlizzi, the vice president of marketing for Z-Force.

Poised to deliver high-speed NAS performance based on affordable ATA (advanced technology attachment) disk drives is Fremont, Calif.-based NAS company Zambeel.

Using inexpensive, ATA-based NAS storage servers, Zambeel's storage approach is to be able to offer multiterabytes of IP-based storage while virtualizing the management of the storage resources within a single system image, according to Darren Thomas, the president and CEO of Zambeel.

Zambeel's NAS systems are currently in beta form, but products from the company are expected to hit the market sometime in mid-2002, said Thomas.

NAS startup Storigen, based in Lowell, Mass., is in the process of delivering its Distributed Storage System, which should give users the ability to move huge multimedia files from a network's edge to customers and clients connected to the Internet, according to company representatives.

Roger Cox, a chief storage analyst at Gartner, an IT research and consulting company in Stamford, Conn., agrees that recent and future NAS improvements will indirectly improve the delivery of Web services.

"What these [NAS] companies are talking about are two issues: One is performance, meaning capacity and scalability, the other is lowering the cost associated with NAS," said Cox.

"And cost is important here. How many Web services do you think will be implemented if the cost for storage doesn't support it?" asked Cox, who used Zambeel as an example. "Zambeel's approach is to allow [companies] to have a lot more capacity for the same amount of dollars they would currently spend for less capacity."

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