IBM beefs up NAS-SAN gateway

By Lisa Coleman

Hoping to take advantage of one of the hottest segments of the network-attached storage (NAS) market—NAS-SAN gateways—IBM recently announced its high-end TotalStorage NAS Gateway 500, which will replace its midrange 300G NAS gateway. International Data Corp. (IDC) expects the market for NAS gateways to grow at a CAGR of more than 46% through 2007.

To tackle the high-end gateway market, which is dominated by NAS market leaders Network Appliance and EMC, IBM boosted NFS and CIFS performance and leveraged the Power processor technology that is used in its pSeries servers. Also, the gateway uses agents for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, Storage Resource Manager, and SAN Manager.

"This is a space that IBM had to get into and, quite frankly, up until now they didn't have a competitive product," says Mike Karp, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).

The 300G NAS gateway was based on Windows, but the model 500 uses IBM's AIX operating system.

"Apparently, IBM was not satisfied with what Microsoft could deliver—at least for the types of environments IBM is targeting," says Brad Nisbet, a senior research analyst at IDC.

The 500 NAS gateway is aimed at "more-sophisticated" IT environments than its predecessors, says EMA's Karp. These high-end environments have, in many cases, avoided using traditional NAS because it is typically hard to manage and has scalability problems, he says.

To meet high-end requirements, IBM boosted performance of its gateway product while keeping its pricing lower than the competitors', claims David Vaughn, worldwide product marketing manager for storage at IBM.

Versus the 300G NAS gateway, IBM claims a 150% improvement in CIFS (Windows) performance and a 600% increase in NFS (Unix) performance, according to Vaughn.

The model 500 can provide file serving for IBM eServer systems and can connect to all IBM Shark and FAStT disk arrays, as well as disk arrays from Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). However, users will need IBM's SAN Volume Controller to connect the 500 gateway to back-end storage area network (SAN) arrays from Hitachi (Thunder 9200) or HP (MA 8000, EMA 12000, or EMA 16000). The SAN Volume Controller is not needed to connect the 500 NAS gateway to IBM's disk arrays.

List prices for the model 500 start at $67,000 for a single node, two-processor gateway. The device scales up to two nodes with four processors each.

IBM's shift to a high-end gateway is no surprise, according to analysts. Late last year, Network Appliance began selling its gFiler NAS gateway, which was previously available only through an OEM agreement with HDS. Network Appliance offered the gFiler with support for IBM's Shark and FAStT arrays, too. Of note, IBM certified the NetApp's gFiler through its internal certification and interoperability program.

Some analysts believe that IBM did not want to lose customers to Network Appliance. "By getting its filer into existing accounts and leveraging on top of that the SAN Volume Controller and SAN File System, IBM can maintain account control," says Steve Kenniston, a technology analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group consulting and research firm.

The IBM SAN File System will provide one point of control for managing storage devices and data as opposed to multiple control points (see "IBM delivers SAN file system," InfoStor, November 2003, p. 1).

"With the release of its SAN File System, IBM is trying to stay on top of managing a file system across both block and file storage," says Kenniston.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2004