NAS muscles into the limelight

For the past few years, most of the glory-and excessive hype-in the storage industry has centered on storage area networks (SANs). But over the last few months, the considerably older network-attached storage (NAS) seems to be pushing SANs somewhere to the left of center stage.

A number of factors are contributing to IT managers' renewed interest in what was once a niche market dominated by one vendor. One of these factors is tremendous growth. For example, market researcher IDC expects the NAS market to jump from about

$2 billion last year to almost $15 billion in 2003. To be sure, projections for the total SAN market are much higher, but those figures take into account all of the specialized (i.e., expensive) devices such as Fibre Channel host bus adapters, hubs, switches, bridges, and routers that are required to build SANs. So in terms of rate of adoption, NAS may be outpacing SANs.

Also contributing to renewed interest are emerging technologies that will cure some of NAS's problems such as relatively slow speed. One example is the Direct Access File System (DAFS) protocol, which will incorporate the Virtual Interface (VI) architecture to significantly speed up file-level transfer rates. (For more information, see InfoStor, August 2000, p. 1.)

Another reason for renewed interest in NAS is IT's ongoing emphasis on reducing costs. NAS can't provide everything that SANs can, but NAS is a lot easier on the IT budget's bottom line.

But perhaps the biggest boost for NAS came last month, with EMC's formidable entry into the midrange NAS market and introduction of high-end software that promises to offer the best of both NAS and SAN (see "EMC attacks midrange NAS," on p. 1). EMC's midrange play pits the behemoth squarely against NAS leader Network Appliance, and it's notable that EMC is willing to compete on price, for a change.

Network Appliance did a tremendous job creating and evangelizing the NAS market years ago, but EMC is no slouch at expanding markets, either. The fur will fly between these two giants, but the result will be a rapid increase in the adoption of NAS.

Also on this month's cover is an article about Tricord's aggregation technology, which combines clustering and virtualization techniques for server appliances, including-but not limited to-NAS appliances. This is further evidence of the starring role that NAS may play on the storage stage.

Tricord used to make "super servers" but switched gears a few years ago and went into deep R&D mode. The initial fruits of the engineering-oriented company's efforts are embodied in its aggregation technology, which, if widely adopted, could further erode NAS's traditional weaknesses.

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Dave Simpson, Editor-in-Chief

This article was originally published on January 01, 2001