NAS market to split into gateway, stand-alone segments

By Lisa Coleman

In the future, the network-attached storage (NAS) market will comprise two distinct product categories-gateways and stand-alone devices-according to a recent report from the Gartner Inc. research and consulting firm, in Stamford, CT.

NAS technology has evolved rapidly in the past year as vendors debuted several gateway products-devices that attach a NAS head to a storage area network (SAN). Meanwhile, stand-alone NAS server vendors also added new functionality such as snapshot technology and NAS aggregation.

In the report, "Does the future bode well for NAS?", Gartner analyst Pushan Rinnen predicts that the two NAS market segments will become even more distinct than they are today, with NAS gateways dominating enterprise environments that use SANs. Vendors such as Compaq, Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM have introduced NAS gateways. The advantages of gateways, according to Rinnen, are consolidated NAS/SAN storage, unified management, and better scalability.

Meanwhile, stand-alone NAS with integrated storage will dominate in environments that do not have Fibre Channel SANs.

However, while stand-alone products will represent the majority of the NAS market revenue in the near future, eventually stand-alone NAS products may "cease to exist," Rinnen states.

"NAS could become just another server blade," Rinnen says, "and you'd have application server blades all tapping into one storage pool. But vendors are still many years away from that because of the infrastructure, management software, and all of the components that need to come together."

However, the stand-alone NAS market is still strong from a revenue perspective. This year's NAS market is expected to hit $1.9 billion (a 20% increase over 2001) and $4.3 billion by 2006, according to Gartner. By 2006, NAS gateways are expected to account for about 20% of NAS revenue.

Driving NAS market growth will be software enhancements such as aggregation and snapshot technology. For ATA-based NAS, backup and archive functionality will remain important application areas.

Low-end and midrange NAS appliances, especially devices based on Windows, will boost the market, adds Rinnen. In 2001, Windows-based NAS servers accounted for 6% of the NAS market revenue and 18% of units shipped. OEMs shipping Windows-based NAS include Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Hitachi, IBM, Maxtor, and NEC.

"We're forecasting continued strong growth for Windows-based NAS," says Rinnen. She notes that major server vendors are using Windows, in part because it is compatible with APIs for third-party application plug-ins.

Microsoft could make even more of an impact on the NAS market with its enterprise storage division and plans to introduce more NAS-specific software (see "Microsoft to move beyond NAS," InfoStor, July 2002, p. 1).

Rinnen also predicts that the forthcoming release of Microsoft's .NET server will bring enhanced storage management for NAS by integrating features such as virtualization. Microsoft officials have also announced plans to incorporate storage features of the .NET server into "Windows-powered NAS."

At the high end, one trend that bears watching is the aggregation of multiple NAS devices into a single logical volume. A distributed file system, or hierarchical storage management tool, is often used in aggregation. Network Appliance officials recently introduced DataFabric Manager, a tool to manage a large group of filers, and Rinnen expects more vendors to offer similar management products.

Two of the most significant performance-boosting technologies to impact NAS are the Direct Access File System (DAFS) protocol and TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) NICs.

The DAFS protocol overcomes TCP/IP stack processing limitations to boost NAS performance. Network Appliance, which spearheaded the DAFS initiative, introduced the first DAFS product earlier this year.

Hewlett-Packard recently demonstrated that TOE NIC cards also boost NAS performance when they hooked up Alacritech's TOE NIC card to a NAS E7000 server to boost performance (see "Alacritech, HP boost NAS performance," InfoStor, June 2002, p. 8).

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This article was originally published on August 01, 2002