Mountain View, California-based Network Appliance Corp is upping the ante with a stripped-down, performance-boosted version of its second generation Network File System servers – the NetApp F330 – which it claims delivers the industry’s fastest access response times, set at 1,143 Network File System operations at 10mS access times. NetApp F330 comes with new transport-independent operating system software that combines its high-speed file system with integrated Network File System and redundant array of inexpensive disks technology. Software modules include media access, TCP/IP, Network File System, the proprietary Write Anywhere File Layout file system, RAID and SCSI disk drivers. The system avoids Unix overheads by having a single file system that grows automatically as new disks are added, up to a maximum of 80Gb. This eliminates the complexities of partitioning disks, said the company, assigning partitions to users. The company gets around the performance problems associated with RAID Level 4 by tightly integrating the Write Anywhere File Layout file system, which it said radically reduces search times.
Typical RAID 4 systems are strong on reliability, but low on performance, due to the parity disk bottleneck. The alternative, RAID 5, eliminates the single hot parity drive, but is hard to administer and scale. The Write Anywhere File Layout file system uses its knowledge of the RAID system to write a data pattern that minimises seek times and maximises performance, according to the company. Hot-swappable disks and spares, and redundant cooling and power supplies add to system reliability. Costs are reduced by building the system around off-the shelf, iAPX-86-based hardware – although the company has been forced by reliability problems to design its own motherboard. The NetApp F330 uses a 90MHz Pentium, a PCI expansion bus and SCSI/SCSI-2 interfaces. Up to eight 10BaseT Ethernet, three 100Mbps Fast Ethernet and two FDDI interfaces are also provided. There is also up to 8Mb of PCI-bus RAM for data safety and data reliability. It comes in either tower or rack-mountable packaging. Prices start at $52,100. The cheaper 80486-based FAServer systems continue to be available. Network Appliance says it has now shipped more than 800 servers to 200 customers worldwide, since it was founded in 1992. The company came onto the market two and a half years ago to challenge established file server vendor Auspex Inc – from where many of the company’s technologists originally came. The company has always concentrated on providing optimised hardware appliances specifically optimised for file serving tasks. Key application areas have been software engineering, engineering and mechnical computer-aided design, followed by the Internet, business and financial services organisations, said the company. Sales in 1994 reached $14.5m, and Network Appliance claims that this year’s figures are now running several times ahead of that. It plans to go public on Nasdaq in the near future. Its product plans include high-end systems, licensing of its software to other vendors, and networking appliances beyond Network File System.