Hybrid system bridges two worlds

Users can allocate space for both NAS and SAN; vendors also offer new disk arrays

For most federal storage managers, Network Appliance Inc. is synonymous with network-attached storage, a category of easy-to-use file storage boxes that the company helped pioneer and popularize.

Now, Network Appliance is branching out into the storage-area network and host-attached markets with its introduction earlier this month of the new FAS900 series. The company's goal — shared by several other vendors in the market — is to provide products that can simplify storage management by bridging the worlds of NAS and SAN with one unified platform.

NAS is composed of storage devices that connect to a network and provide file access services to computer systems. SANs transfer data between computer systems and an array of storage devices. A SAN consists of a communication infrastructure and a management layer that organizes storage devices and systems for the secure transfer of data. NAS can be attached to a SAN and, as a result, become part of that network.

"The value proposition [of the FAS900] is centered around investment protection," said Chris Bennett, director of product marketing at Network Appliance. "Some people will deploy this as SAN only, some as NAS only, and some are doing both at the same time. We're extending the same set of [device and data] management tools from NAS to SAN and handling both from one interface."

One of the most important benefits of the unified management platform is that it allows administrators to "easily allocate space from one [environment] to another" when operating in hybrid mode, Bennett said.

Indeed, the ability to swap space easily between NAS and SAN partitions as needs change has been lacking in some other vendors' early attempts to build NAS/SAN hybrids, such as EMC Corp.'s Celerra File Server, according to Arun Taneja, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group.

With these other products, "the boundary between the two could be changed, but it is pretty time-consuming," he said. "The goal is a back end that is totally fluid."

The new Network Appliance storage boxes are available in two models, the FAS940, which stores up to 18 terabytes of data, and the FAS960, which holds up to 48 terabytes. NAS connectivity is standard on both models via Ethernet support, while optional SAN connectivity is achieved through a Fibre Channel switch and host bus adapter integration, along with enhancements to the company's proprietary operating system.

Built to Go

Meanwhile, several other vendors rolled out new disk storage boxes this month (see box). Among them is SGI's Total Performance 9500 Redundant Array of Independent Disks storage array, which is designed for the kinds of high-performance computing environments often found in government.

The TP9500's performance is attributed to its use of 2 gigabit Fibre Channel technology, as well as a new high-speed storage controller, the 5884, which has throughput speeds of up to 800 megabytes/sec per dual controller and was built for SGI by LSI Logic Storage Systems Inc.

Taneja said that LSI (and by extension, its partners such as SGI) has excelled at "squeezing more performance out of a given technology, which helps them deliver more value by offering good performance at less cost."

***

A bevy of boxes

Network Appliance Inc.'s FAS900 series: Family of high-end network-attached storage devices that can connect to a storage-area network or host devices. Offers Fibre Channel connectivity and a single console to manage both NAS and SAN modes.

Pricing: $150,000 to more than $1 million, depending on configuration.

SGI's Total Performance 9500:

Disk subsystem optimized for high-performance scientific and engineering applications. Provides full redundancy with duplication of all active components, including controllers, cache, data channels, cables, interfaces, power supplies, fans and battery backup modules.

Pricing: Starts at $111,990.

EMC Corp.'s Clariion CX400: Newest disk subsystem in EMC's line of Clariion midtier products. Available in storage capacities from 180G to 4.3 terabytes. Users can upgrade to the CX600 without migrating data.

Pricing: $62,000 to $217,000.

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StorEdge 3310:

First model in a new family of entry-level disk subsystems. Ruggedized array meets Mil-Std 810F specification.

Pricing: Five-disk unit with Redundant Array of Independent Disks controller lists for about $13,000.

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