NetApp bridges the SAN/NAS gap with new filers

Network Appliance Inc. yesterday took its first plunge into the storage-area network (SAN) marketplace with a new server series and software edition that can perform file-level or block-level data transfers using the same disk pool, greatly reducing management headaches and wasted storage space.

The new technology is the first to eliminate the physical boundary between a SAN and network-attached storage (NAS) that has traditionally been bridged using a gateway device, such as an NAS engine or "head" that uses a separate operating system.

At a press event here, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company introduced its Fabric Attached Storage (FAS) series file servers -- the 1.8-GHz FAS940 and 2.0-GHz FAS960 models -- that scale from 8TB to 32TB of capacity. The new models have a 25 percent performance increase over NetApp's older-model F880 filer and reduce data transfer times by a third.

Dave Hitz, Network Appliance's founder and executive vice president of engineering, told a packed theater in Times Square that after evangelizing for NAS for 10 years, his company is getting into the SAN market because customers want it.

"From a technical perspective, the coolest thing is to install an Oracle database using NFS going over NAS. And then, if you decide to, you can tell your systems I'd like to take this exact same data, convert it to a LUN [logical unit number] and run it on Fibre Channel for while," Hitz said.

Prices for the arrays, with management software, range between US$150,000 and $1 million and vary based on capacity and software systems, Hitz said. The FAS900 series will scale to 48TB and include native SCSI over IP connectivity (iSCSI) by the middle of next year.

Network Appliance customer Nick Hulsey, a system design engineer at Southwest Airlines Co. in Dallas, said he sees his company using the new filers to reduce backup windows and take advantage of an existing router infrastructure.

Two months ago, Hulsey purchased two FAS960 servers to go with 16 older Network Appliance filers that house 15TB of Southwest data on Oracle and Sybase databases. Southwest Airlines backs up corporate and customer data across a Gigabit Ethernet network.

By using SAN instead of NAS, backups that normally take seven to 10 hours are eliminated because the company can now perform incremental backups using snapshots of LUNs. Hulsey also purchased a NearStore R100 array for disk-to-disk backup for secondary storage prior to archiving to a 70TB tape library.

But what Hulsey said he's "really salivating over," is the iSCSI. "We can use that to take advantage of our Cisco infrastructure," he said.

Hitz also said that SAN technology has opened up new partnerships for Network Appliance, including reseller agreements with storage vendors such as switch makers McData Corp. in Broomfield, Colo., and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. in San Jose and storage software companies Veritas Software Corp. in Mountain View, Calif., and IBM's Tivoli.

Network Appliance's latest version of Data OnTap 6.3, FAS960 and FAS940, as well as older-model F880 and F825 filers, can simultaneously manage NAS volumes and SAN LUNs to serve up block-level data across Fibre Channel networks and take snapshots of LUNs.

The FAS900 manages both NAS volumes and SAN LUNs, and includes the ability to allocate storage between the two, to dynamically expand LUNs and to take snapshots of LUNs. The new software also offers LUN masking, dynamic LUN expansion and Wizard-based LUN setup.

Hitz said that having the same operating system across all three lines of storage devices -- file servers, NearStore array and NetCache server -- allows users to achieve true modularity and a single interface.

"The No. 1 advantage to our approach is simplicity," Hitz said. "The vast majority of applications can go either way, anyways [SAN or NAS]."

Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., predicted that Network Appliance would find great success selling into an already well-established NAS market.

"I see this as a fantastic feature for existing customers," he said.

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