NetApp targets backup

Network Appliance, one of the leaders in the NAS space, has entered a new market. In addition to continuing what it's always done with its storage appliances, the company is now looking to help companies with their backup needs.

The firm has taken an interesting approach, trying to meld the low cost of tape with the fast access of disk. NetApp's new product, called the NearStore R100, ranges from 12 Tbytes up to 96 Tbytes in storage and is all based on ATA drives. Since it runs on NetApp's Filer microkernal operating system, existing customers should be set. Pricing starts at 2 cents/megabyte, so an entry-level system will set you back about US$240,000.

"We're positioning this as an alternative to tape libraries," says Ray Villeneuve, vice president of marketing for NetApp. "We're hoping that NearStore will front-end the large tape libraries and live at the large data centers." It will be particularly useful for backup from remote locations, he says, to centralize all backups into one physical box.

NearStore has already been certified to work with Veritas, Legato, and Computer Associates backup software as well as with a number of tape libraries.

Already, about a dozen NearStore systems have been sold, Villeneuve said. One of these was to a high-tech company that produces integrated circuits, which Villeneuve declined to name, but he described the customer as having "hundreds" of Filers and said that the customer is using NearStore to back up existing data and to be able to look at designs from previous products. Electronic design shops from aircraft to PCs have massive storage needs and are good fits with NearStore, he added.

In addition, NetApp has announced a few other tools: SnapVault, for existing NetApp customers to consolidate snapshots; version 2.0 of its DataFabric Manager, a Web-based interface to help manage NetApp Filer boxes and monitor storage utilization; a virtualization product called MultiStore to partition a NetApp Filer into various domains, even mixed ones; and an upgraded interface into various storage management frameworks from Hewlett Packard, Tivoli, and BMC.

All together, this makes for a very interesting announcement, but analysts remain mixed over whether customers outside of NetApp's existing installed base will bite. "They see a strong market for business continuity, especially since September 11, and they want to jump in," said Dianne McAdam, an analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, NH.

She goes on to say that it's an "interesting idea to take inexpensive disks for backup," but, "it's not clear to me that this is of interest outside the installed base." If I don't have a NetApp appliance in my shop, would I bring in something like this to solve the problem? If I don't have any NAS appliances on the floor, I'm not sure I'd be keen to try this. I'm not sure people will be able to make that leap."

On the other hand, Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston, calls the NetApp announcements "great stuff. They're trying to simplify the whole approach to backup," he says, and "that's of great value" to customers that have been facing problems backing up one-off storage systems and arrays in scattered locations. "This lets you do a consolidated backup and recovery for many devices," he says, as opposed to having to target a backup to a specific tape device.

As with most things, only time will tell for sure. What do you think?

Does the market need this type of product? Drop me a line at the e-mail address below.

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