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The future of NAS devices: diversified, advanced 

Performance issues to abate

By Deni Connor

Potential buyers of network-attached storage (NAS) might ask: "What are some of the developing trends in NAS devices?" Here are a few key ones to keep tabs on:

NAS boxes will increasingly support block-level storage-area networks (SANs), as well as file-level capability. Network Appliance, which pioneered this kind of storage and called it "unified storage," introduced SAN and NAS access in a single appliance in 2002. Preceding these announcements were NAS gateway products that linked NAS appliances as front-ends to SAN arrays from Sun StorageTek, EMC, Compellent and ONStor. After Network Appliance's introduced converged NAS/SAN storage, Microsoft quickly followed by offering SAN access in its Microsoft Unified Data Storage Server 2003. Now unified NAS/SAN appliances are available from Network Appliance, StoreVault, Dell and HP among others.

In addition, manufacturers of NAS appliances will continue to incorporate such advanced features as migration, snapshotting, replication and cloning. These offerings let IT administrators automatically move data from one appliance to another to allow for maintenance, patching, application testing or development. Integrated replication, seen in Pillar Data Systems' AxiomONE Volume Replicator or BlueArc's Incremental Data Replication, will become increasingly leveraged as users seek to move data from one location or array to another.

The performance debate surrounding NAS appliances is expected to disappear. Vendors of competing SAN arrays long have claimed that NAS storage does not have the performance capabilities of Fibre Channel SAN storage. This claim is no longer true, considering the performance of Network Appliance's and BlueArc's NAS devices.

Increasingly, enterprise applications will be deployed on NAS arrays. Despite the claim from vendors of Fibre Channel SAN arrays that NAS devices shouldn't be used to host enterprise or business-critical applications, such companies as Network Appliance and BlueArc offer clear alternatives. Dozens of their users commonly deploy Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange databases on their high end as well as midrange NAS devices.

File-management software will continue to proliferate as IT administrators struggle to control and manage bunches of NAS devices and file servers on their networks. File area networking software and appliances, such as those from F5 Networks, will be deployed in distributed enterprises. This software, which brings together individual file systems from separate NAS devices to a single file system, is intent on making management of distributed NAS devices easier.

A focus on NAS for small and midsize businesses will continue in 2008. These businesses, often saddled with a lack of dedicated IT staff, will call for simplified installation, configuration and management as an affordable price point. Look for such NAS appliances as Network Appliance's StoreVault, HP's All-in-One storage and Dell's PowerVault to make big strides into the SMB market. Also watch for NAS devices with iSCSI capability; for SMBs inexperienced with Fibre Channel, iSCSI makes sense, because it is easy to configure, less complicated to use and available at a price that won't break the bank.

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