Network-attached storage lines debut (Part II)

Dell Computer Corp., one of the leading direct vendors of desktops and server systems, last week launched its initial foray into the network-attached storage market, announcing a new line of systems designed to make storage systems a common appliance.

Dell's new NAS systems, known as the PowerVault 700 series, provide a single dedicated file server, or "filer," that offers access to stored information for client systems running either Unix or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating systems.

In addition, because NAS systems provide direct client access to stored data, the PowerVault 700 series offloads network traffic from general-purpose servers, freeing up those systems to handle application processing.

Dell is offering workgroup, departmental and enterprise-level configurations of the PowerVault 700, each of which are part of the company's plan to capture a portion of the growing NAS market, which has been forecast by International Data Corp. to be worth $5 billion through 2003.

The PowerVault 700 NAS solution expands upon Dell's product offerings in the storage-area network, Fibre Channel and tape-backup markets. According to Bruce Kornfeld, senior product marketing manager, the company hopes this announcement will enable Dell to tailor its solutions to customers' specific needs.

The filer contains its own operating system, file system and built-in Redundant Array of Independent Disks capability; connects directly to the network; and relies on Fibre Channel disk enclosures for data storage. More importantly, the system supports heterogeneous network environments, which enable Unix and Windows NT clients to access and store the same information.

"The users don't need to know much about it," Kornfeld said. "It looks like typical storage on the network. It's a real simple appliance."

"Our goal is to simplify the process of administering storage," said Bobbi Hazard, Dell's director of storage.

With the Power Vault 700 series, "you can pull data from anything and anywhere," she said.

One unique feature of Dell's PowerVault NAS solutions includes instant access to new hard drives, which eliminates the need to reboot servers and client machines on the network, a process that can slow down an organization's operations. In addition, a feature known as "point-in-time backup" allows administrators to back up information while continuing to serve data to client workstations. This feature is enabled through a process known as a "snapshot copy," which makes an online copy of stored data at various times and allows users to retrieve previous versions of documents and other information.

"[Network-attached storage] is going to be a way for Dell to capture a portion of the [government] market that we have not been able to play in in the past," said Tim Hughes, server brand manager for Dell Federal. However, it is still unclear exactly what government customers are asking for in terms of their NAS requirements, he said. "Right now it looks like a mix" between application and file server requirements, Hughes said.

Carl Howe, research director at Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass., said Dell's PowerVault NAS announcement complements the company's offerings in the SAN market.

"[Dell] is one of the few vendors who have put some substance behind" SANs, Howe said. "Dell's PowerVault [NAS] product line gives customers high reliability and flexibility" that is not really available with SANs, and it works well in network environments with servers from multiple vendors, he said.

Starting at a list price of $19,500, Dell will begin shipping PowerVault 700 series systems in June and plans to offer the systems on its General Services Administration schedule on the same day the systems begin to ship.

"As with all of our products, the goal is to have it on the GSA schedule the day it is announced," said Jodi Weinbrandt, Dell's director of federal marketing.

The workgroup PowerVault 720N features 256M of memory, support for up to 30 hard drives and has a 400 MHz Alpha processor. The departmental 740N offers 512M of memory, supports up to 60 hard drives and a 400 MHz processor. The enterprise-level 760N comes configured with 1G of memory and a 600 MHz Alpha processor and supports up to 84 hard drives.

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