Storage and networking converge (but that doesn't mean that NAS = SAN)

Click here to enlarge image

The convergence of storage and networking, heralded over the last few years, is finally dawning on us. Over the last few months we've been hearing a lot of talk about running block-oriented SCSI traffic over IP networks such as Gigabit Ethernet (see cover stories). Some solutions already exist, and some won't be ready for prime time for years.

For IT managers, the message is simple: In the future, there will be more and more options to build whatever kind of storage/networking infrastructure you need.

For third-party storage integrators, the message is equally clear: storage expertise has done you well for the last few years, but the combination of storage and networking skills is what you'll need over the next few years.

SCSI, Fibre Channel, TCP/IP, SAN/LAN/MAN/WAN, etc. It's an interesting alphabet soup that's all brewing in the same pot.

From a vendor competition angle, it's all mom and apple pie so far, with the operative words being "coopetition" and "complementary solutions." I hope that the vendor community doesn't turn this into a bloody war over plumbing. NAS and SAN solve a lot of problems, and end users will decide what sort of underlying infrastructure best meets their needs.


Speaking of which, when did NAS become SAN? Apparently, last month at an N+I press/analyst briefing hosted by Network Appliance and ATL Products. Also participating were Amdahl, Cisco, Foundry, Legato, and Veritas. These vendors banded together to announce the Open Storage Networking (OSN) initiative (as though we needed another acronym or, for that matter, another consortium).

The OSN group laid out an architecture that consisted primarily of NetApp NAS filers linked via Gigabit Ethernet to an ATL tape library equipped with native Gigabit Ethernet support and NDMP. (ATL's Gigabit Ethernet board is due in August).

The architecture looked like NAS, with an interesting twist on the backup side of things. However, the group referred to it as a "Gigabit Ethernet SAN." In the ensuing discussion, which focused largely on terminology, a NetApp representative claimed that, by any definition, the architecture was a SAN. He's right. However, I think that this terminology switcharoo will confuse IT managers. Just when they're getting comfortable with what NAS and SAN are-and the relative weaknesses, strengths, and synergies-they're confronted with a NAS/SAN hybrid being billed as a Gigabit Ethernet SAN.

At one point in the briefing, a vendor representative suggested that the press and analysts just drop the cutesy acronyms and call it all "storage networking." If it's necessary to identify the underlining plumbing, he said, called it "Fibre Channel storage networking" or "Gigabit Ethernet storage networking." Not a bad idea, but I think that NAS and SAN are too far entrenched in the IT lexicon at this point.

Network Appliance is a highly successful storage vendor, and maybe they're miffed at being lumped in the NAS bin (which is increasingly being identified with a plethora of low-end devices and vendors), while SANs get all the hype and glory. I can understand that, but NAS in SAN clothing is still NAS.

What do you think? Are NAS filers linked via Gigabit Ethernet to a tape library with NDMP support a SAN or NAS configuration? More importantly, perhaps: Do you care?

Dave Simpson, Editor-in-Chief

This article was originally published on June 01, 2000