Network Appliance makes major upgrade to product lines

Network Appliance on Monday upgraded parts of both its software and hardware lines, as the company continued its effort to show the cost and management benefits of networked storage.

Most companies are moving away from direct-attached storage models in which the information kept on a storage unit can only be accessed by a few servers. Advances in networking technologies have made it possible to open up data sitting on storage boxes to a much wider number of servers and users, typically through SAN (storage area network) or NAS (network-attached storage) environments.

Network Appliance centers its storage offerings on NAS products that connect into, for example, existing Ethernet-based networks. Yahoo Inc. has adopted Network Appliance products almost exclusively and manages its entire 550T bytes of storage around the world with 12 people, said Dan Warmenhoven, chief executive officer of Network Appliance, in a recent interview.

Network Appliance Monday upgraded one of the key pieces of software that allows a company to centrally manage storage by releasing version 1.1 of its DataFabric Manager software. With the new release, the company has added support for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris 2.8 Unix operating system. In addition, Network Appliance expanded on its performance and capacity management tools in the product. The product will be available in October.

The company also introduced its first multiprocessor storage appliances designed to work with large databases or complex corporate applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. The F880 can handle up to 6T bytes of data, and the F880c can scale up to 12T bytes. As Network Appliance upgrades other parts of its software line, the company expects the larger unit to be able to manage 18T bytes of data. Available immediately, the products start at US$135,000.

The company also added tools to its NetCache software, making the new version of the product available this quarter. The NetCache 5.2 software helps companies make content such as streaming media more easily available to the end user by caching the information on storage units near the user instead of always feeding the data from a central point. If a user in Australia, for example, pulled a corporate training video from a server in the U.S., other Australian workers could access the content from a caching appliance close by instead of from the server in the U.S., improving transfer speeds and lowering bandwidth costs for the company.

Network Appliance has added support for Apple Computer Inc.'s QuickTime media to NetCache, which already supports Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media and RealNetworks Inc.'s RealMedia. The company also included a Global Request Manager (GRM) option that should help direct content so that the end user always receives cached content from the closest available hardware.

Network Appliance also said its SnapManager software will be available for Microsoft Corp. Exchange 2000 by the fourth quarter, starting at $4,000. The SnapManager product automates data backup, storage and recovery tasks.

With the release of its new hardware, in particular, Network Appliance hopes to cast off its image as a provider of small storage units able to handle only a couple of specific tasks.

"We have an image in the marketplace that is mostly a historical legacy," Warmenhoven said. "Some people have this notion that an appliance is small. Sure, it was not that long ago that the largest system we sold was 1.5T bytes, but these days we scale up to 18T bytes."

Warmenhoven also shrugged off talk about traditional server vendors creeping into the storage space. Companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc. will try to keep the bond between its storage products and servers tight and will remain hesitant to provide broad support for hardware from other vendors, Warmenhoven said.

By fitting into existing IP (Internet Protocol) networks and supporting a variety of operating systems and hardware, Network Appliance claims it can capture a larger share of the storage market moving forward.

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