Network Storage Standards on Tap

FRAMINGHAM (01/28/2000) - The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has formed a working group to develop standards for network-attached storage (NAS), which would eventually offer information technology professionals uniform NAS products.

Fundamentally, NAS offers easier installation and allows users to access shared files faster and at lower cost than accessing file servers from a Unix or Windows NT workstation.

Andrea Westerinen, technical director at the SNIA in Mountain View, Calif., said the NAS Working Group will focus on clarifying and defining a common terminology for the technology. The SNIA defines NAS as "storage devices that connect to a network and provide file access services to computer systems."

Although the SNIA defines NAS specifically, vendors and users alike seem to be at a loss for a definition. "Worlds get complex when vendors get involved, and vendors need to know what they mean by NAS or know what that term means," Westerinen said. Several NAS definitions are floating around, including these two: "disk storage system attached to a Fibre Channel network" and "file storage systems attached to an IP network."

According to Peripheral Concepts Inc., NAS tallied $2.2 billion in sales in 1999 and will increase to $3.3 billion this year. Farid Neema, an analyst at the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based research firm, said any supervision for an NAS standard will boost its adoption.

Another main goal for the NAS Working Group is defining the Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol. Originally created by Microsoft Corp., CIFS allows clients to open, close, share and lock files. CIFS is one of several file systems involved in an NAS environment, but it's the most flexible, Westerinen said. The group is shooting for a July deadline to propose an expanded CIFS protocol before the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Also a target is sharing files across various operating systems, such as Linux, Solaris and Windows 2000 and 98, in different environments. The concept is "well accepted and well understood" but isn't happening now, she said.

Chris Selland, an analyst at The Yankee Group, said a standard is missing from NAS offerings, "but the reality is, a vendor will come in and dominate the NAS market, create a standard, and everybody else will fall into line."

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