Last month, network-attached storage leader, Network Appliance announced its foray into the storage-area networking environment. While at first glance, this may not seem too interesting, as there are several storage vendors that support SAN and NAS storage (like IBM, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, to reel off a few high-powered vendors), I'd like to present a couple of reasons why this announcement is worth a second look.
First of all, this is quite a change in direction for NetApp.
I mean, I thought its "thing" was a high-speed proprietary filer. How does SAN fit into that? Well, as it turns out, it fits quite well for customers.
Almost half of the 266 respondents surveyed in Enterprise Management Associates' study, "Storage Purchasing Plans," said that they are evaluating network storage solutions to "centralize data storage management." Companies have chosen to implement NAS storage because of the "appliance" perspective; you plug it in and it works.
NetApp's FAS900 series, as well as F880 and F825 appliances, support NAS and SAN connectivity (note the word "and" rather than "or"). This means that the management interface for the appliances are the same as usual. The differences, of course, come when you create either logical unit numbers for the SAN interfaces or file systems for the NAS interfaces. Other than that, management of the appliance is consistent.
As hinted at above, one very interesting feature of the FAS900 series appliances is that they support BOTH SAN and NAS access on the same appliance, at the same time. This is quite different than the architecture other vendors are using. Other vendors are placing NAS filers in front of SANs to provide a shared storage environment. This introduces yet another node to be managed. Depending on the environment, this may not be ideal. However, this architecture does separate the storage from the filer and opens up the possibility for using heterogeneous storage behind the filer. I will note that not all NAS appliances support the use of heterogeneous storage behind the filer but this architecture does allow for it.
This combined storage node is especially useful in environments where customers have NetApp appliances (F880s or F825s) and also have applications where NAS is not supported or does not perform as desired. In these environments, the extra capacity on the NetApp filers can now be shared with SAN applications, all while maintaining the management interfaces administrators are trained on.
NetApp has taken an interesting approach in combining NAS and SAN functionality into the storage subsystem.