ONStor ships low-cost NAS gateway

By Heidi Biggar

ONStor last month marked its one-year anniversary with the introduction of its second product, the Bobcat NAS Gateway. The gateway is a smaller, less-expensive rendition of the company’s SF4400 SAN Filer, which it introduced a year ago. The SF4400 listed for $85,000, while the Bobcat NAS Gateway is priced from less than $20,000.

Jon Toor, ONStor’s vice president of marketing, says that while the market opportunity for gateways is significant, cost and ease-of-use issues have limited the technology’s acceptance. ONStor believes users will be attracted to Bobcat’s relatively low pricing as well as its feature set, which includes snapshots and disk-to-disk replication. Other software applications, including ONStor Data Mirror, High Availability, and Data Restore, are available as options.

The Bobcat NAS Gateway is a 1U appliance; users can add gateways as their storage capacity/processing demands increase without having to migrate users or data, according to Toor.

The gateway’s scalable file system creates a “network” of integrated “virtual servers,” or vServers, which essentially move processing power transparently among gateways depending on throughput requirements.

“This addresses the data migration problems associated with NAS,” claims Toor. “It does what global file systems are designed to do, but comparatively easily, quickly, and cheaply.”

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The gateway can pull capacity from a single pool of shared storage on demand and serve it up to applications as necessary. The ability to auto-grow capacity allows users to make better use of their storage resources, eliminating over-provisioning and under-provisioning. “LUNs are derived from a common pool of storage, which is then shared among the gateways to prevent over-provisioning,” explains Toor.

Nielsen Media Research has deployed two Bobcat gateways in front of its Hitachi 9980 and EMC CX600 disk arrays in an effort to drive storage utilization rates up. Nielsen also plans to front-end its StorageTek D280 and EMC DMX systems with the NAS gateways in the future. Nielsen’s environment previously consisted of server-based NFS shares and Windows clusters.

The Bobcat’s file system theoretically scales from 1TB to 40,000TB, and each instance of the file system supports up to 100TB; up to 400 file systems can be clustered.

NAS gateways, or heads, are designed to help users consolidate disparate islands of NAS storage as well as to make better use of both file- and block-based storage by giving users access to pooled capacity (see “Gateways bring NAS into the data center,” InfoStor, November 2004, p. 20).

Although most NAS gateways are stripped-down derivatives of existing NAS products, ONStor’s Bobcat was built from the ground up as a gateway and does not come with any onboard storage capacity.

“I don’t know of any other pure-play NAS gateway vendors,” says Brad Nisbet, program manager, storage systems, at International Data Corp. (IDC) “Even their [closest competitors], BlueArc and Network Appliance, both sell storage with the lion’s share of their systems.”

Other NAS gateway vendors include Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Xiotech; however, most of those vendors’ gateways only work with their own back-end storage.

Analysts expect the NAS gateway market to increase significantly over the next few years. For example, IDC expects the gateway market to grow at a 40% CAGR over the next few years (see figure).

“The market has shifted from the point of if NAS gateways will be adopted by users to a matter of when they will be adopted,” says Greg Schulz, a senior analyst with the Evaluator Group research and consulting firm.

ONStor’s gateways support virtually all back-end storage systems, including arrays from EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, and 3PAR. The gateway has also been qualified with a variety of software applications, including products from McAfee, Symantec, Tivoli, and Veritas. It supports Windows, Linux, and Unix clients and servers.

“None of the major storage vendors have committed to any one NAS, or file-services, strategy,” says IDC’s Nisbet, “and ONStor has started off with two of the most important elements needed for a pure NAS gateway vendor: broad interoperability and low cost.”

This article was originally published on February 01, 2005