Thin servers, NAS create confusion

Posted on June 01, 1998

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Thin servers, NAS create confusion

Zachary Shess

Blame it on increasingly specialized needs of end-users, blame it on vendors, or blame it on El Nino, but the once-clear differentiation between network-attached storage devices (NASDs) and more traditional, yet specialized, servers is blurring.

Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose, addresses this confusion in its recently released report "Worldwide Thin Server Market Statistics and Forecast." The report defines new product categories and predicts market trends.

In 1997, the worldwide thin-server market totaled more than $1.1 billion, reports Dataquest. However, if you factor out the device-control subcategory, which consists of such devices as print servers, the 1997 tally is actually less than $600 million. In 2002, the thin-server market is expected to exceed $16 billion, with the device-control category accounting for about $3 billion. Other rapidly growing product categories include small-business thin servers and workgroup network-attached storage, according to James Staten, Dataquest analyst and the report`s author.

The report defines a thin server as "a specialized, network-based hardware device designed to perform a single or specialized set of server functions and characterized by running a minimal operating architecture, requiring no per-seat network operating system license and client access independent of any operating system or proprietary protocol. In addition, the device is a "closed box" delivering extreme ease of installation, minimal maintenance, and the ability to be managed remotely via a Web browser." Dataquest breaks the thin-server market into nine subcategories. The four NASD categories, with vendor examples, are listed below:

Workgroup network-attached storage--A thin server primarily designed for file sharing in small corporate environments. With just one multi-function storage controller, the device may support RAID. Examples include Axis Communications` StorPoint, Network Power & Light`s AutoNet, Meridian Data Systems` Snap! Server, and Creative Design Solutions` Plug & Stor.

Workgroup network-attached storage, read only-- Similar engine to the above category; however, file sharing is provided through read-only media, such as DVD and CD-ROM. Configured with less than eight drives, the device is typically in a tower configuration. It can be attached to a network but relies on a server`s intelligence and control. Examples: Axis Communications` StorPoint and Hewlett-Packard`s J3168A.

Departmental/enterprise network-attached storage--Dataquest only includes products that fit into the overall thin-server definition in this category. As such, NASD with general-purpose operating systems and external slave storage devices are excluded. Included products, which contain multiple storage controllers and support for multiple network topologies and RAID, are characterized by high-performance file sharing for networked clients or those within a storage-area network (SAN). Devices may be optimized for specific applications, such as video. Examples: Auspex`s NetServers, IBM`s Media Director and WideNet series of video servers, and Network Appliance`s NetApp models F210 through F630.

Departmental/enterprise network-attached storage, read only--This subcategory consists of NASDs used for file sharing from read-only media. Often deployed in a LAN or SAN environment, these devices can be placed in tower, rackmount, or jukebox enclosures and contain at least 12 drives.

Staten cites the gradual acceptance of network-attached storage as one cause of the terminology confusion, but also points to the diverging interests of vendors and users. "It`s coming from two different forces," says Staten. "It`s coming from users saying `I really need to add storage to my network and storage resources for my clients, and it`s just too expensive, complex, and time-consuming to add it through a server`" and from the vendor community that`s saying `we can address this problem with thin servers.`"


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