Network Appliance to tout storage network flexibility

Network Appliance next week is expected to unveil several products to offer simultaneous access to data in both storage area networks and network-attached storage.

The company's new FAS960 and FAS940 storage devices will connect to both Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks, and serve up data from both.

Network Appliance, which made its mark in NAS, will also introduce a version of its operating system, Data ONTAP 6.3, which gives SAN capabilities to the FAS960 and FAS940 while providing a higher storage capacity and larger volume sizes. The larger volume sizes are important because dividing disks into fewer volumes can increase performance.

While users are excited that Network Appliance will be able to supply them with both file-level NAS data and block-level SAN data, they are concerned about other issues such as performance and support.

"Network Appliance will have to prove performance and reliability before they can penetrate the [SAN] market," says Shelly Shostak, lead Unix administrator for mobile communications company Quicksilver Technology Inc. in San Jose. Shostak has two Network Appliance F760 file servers running version 6.1.2 of Data ONTAP.

"[SAN] devices still don't all play together very well. It is imperative that Network Appliance be able to provide a solution they know works [with other products] and can provide customer support for it," says Shostak.

So far, Network Appliance has done little integration with other SAN devices that users and vendors find critical to SAN implementations, experts say. Sources say Network Appliance will only announce interoperability with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. Fibre Channel switches.

Network Appliance declined to comment on its upcoming news.

The FAS960 and FAS940 will be SAN-enabled when the new version of ONTAP ships; until then, they operate only as NAS devices. The boxes will include upgraded dual processors: the FAS960 operates at 2GHz; the FAS940 at 1.8 GHz.

Users who have tested the boxes with only file-level capability say they are seeing a 25 percent performance increase over Network Appliance's F880 file server. With the upgraded processors, they see transfer times reduced by a third.

"This increase in performance, however, doesn't factor in what will happen when SAN [capability] is turned on," says a storage administrator who asked not to be identified.

The Network Appliance devices fit into a group of arrays Gartner calls NAS gateways - devices that let users on an Ethernet network view the data on a Fibre Channel SAN as files rather than blocks of information.

Most arrays now on the market only handle either NAS or SAN data. Vendors that have introduced NAS gateways in the past year are storage giants EMC Corp. and IBM Corp. and start-up LeftHand Networks Inc. EMC introduced Celerra; IBM launched the TotalStorage Network Attached Storage 300G; and, LeftHand Networks promised with its Network Storage Module 100 the ability to view block- and file-level data concurrently from their devices as soon as next month.

The market for NAS gateways is expected to grow quickly as customers want to access SAN or NAS data from a single device. Gartner predicts that 1.38 million units will ship in 2002, climbing to more than 10.2 million units in 2006.

The FAS960 and 940 replace Network Appliance's F880 and F840 file servers. The FAS960 will feature as much as 16 terabytes of capacity; the smaller FAS940 will handle up to 9 terabytes.

A Remote Management Card will also be offered for the FAS960 and FAS940. SyncMirror software, which is used on NAS-only F800 Series file servers, will also be included. SyncMirror allows two copies of a file system to be offered for fault-tolerance. In addition, Network Appliance is expected to announce the NAS-based F825 file server, a replacement for the F820. It will not have SAN capability.

All products are expected to ship by the end of the year, sources say.

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