As the popularity of the Internet continues to grow, and applications become increasingly sophisticated, organizations are being bombarded with more and more data, and the problem of storing all of this on the network has become an increasingly important issue. Until recently, the problem was solved by adding additional servers to the network, but, according to industry researchers this is about to change. The Independent Data Corp has predicted that Network Attach devices will soon be common place in the office environment, with one third of all storage being network attached by the year 2000. This will amount to a $35bn annual worldwide market.
Plug and play
A dedicated ‘plug and play’ network server can be quickly attached to the network backbone providing immediate network resources to all clients. Network attach storage generally has the same storage capabilities as a standard server, but it costs less and performance is enhanced because it does not have additional functionality found on a normal server. It has been described as an independent platform and operating system that appears to the client as any other server. Although the concept of network attach has been around for many years, it is only the last couple of years that have seen products available. Hamish McArthur of McArthur Stroud International, a Surbiton, UK-based industry research company, estimates that network attach is currently responsible for around 5 to 8% of the file server market and predicts that the figure will rise substantially in the next couple of years. So if network attach storage is going to become so popular in a such a short period of time, what effect will it have on the traditional storage companies?
by Emma Nash
EMC Corp’s product marketing manager for the UK and Ireland, Astley Gayle doesn’t seem to think it will create a problem. Some server vendors may see network attach as a threat, some may see it as an opportunity. he says. It would appear that the companies affected by network attach will change their product lines as time progresses to fit in line with market trends and demands. McArthur believes that the major trend to emerge will be the increased adoption of the fiber channel. He said: Fiber channels are going to drive network attach along, providing a higher presence across the network. The majority of the storage companies have launched, or are in the process of developing a cross section of low to high end storage products that are beginning to appear on the market. Xyratex Ltd, Havant, UK, believes cost is not an issue when it comes to network attach storage and thinks it is in a prime position to corner the lower end of the market. It published a survey in February, Solving Network Storage Problems, largely based around it’s own product, the Direct Network Attach storage server that was launched in Europe in December and recently released in South Africa and the US, and the top 1,000 storage companies across the world. It concluded that customers looking for a low end storage upgrade do not need to spend large sums of money on big systems and declared that DNA storage systems can cost less than half the price of installing and upgrading traditional network storage systems. Network Storage Solutions has the SPANStor family of products, designed to reduce the cost and complexity of network storage. SPANStor attaches directly to the Ethernet with no network downtime which means on-going maintenance costs are virtually eliminated. At the other end of the market are companies like EMC, which launched a series of products in October which it said herald EMC’s move into the emerging market for network attached storage. EMC’s products include the Symmetrix Network File Storage, a mainframe style storage-based file server for networks that enables users working on heterogeneous systems to quickly access and share files over departmental and enterprise networks. IBM Corp believes its Network Storage Manager is the only true data sharing storage technology on the market and dismisses Encore Computer Systems Corp’s DataShare, a package that bundles its DataShare software with all of its storage products enabling immediate access to data from mixed environments (CI No 3040). IBM’s world wide director for open system storage, Bill Pinkerton says the company has taken a server and hidden it in a client along with the storage and the tape. Priced at between $150,000 and $500,000 the Network Storage Manager is very much a high end product and despite the company’s claims of beating EMC to true network attach storage, Pinkerton is skeptical that the storage will rise to the status and popularity that organizations such as the IDC are predicting, or that it will reduce costs. The IDC’s director of European storage research, Bob Peyton says that there is now a choice available when it comes to storage, and with so much choice available the end user must make a sensible and balanced decision.
Not all plain sailing
However, it is not all plain sailing when it comes to network attach storage. The more resources that are placed upon it, the more necessary it is to have a robust, high capacity network infrastructure, the network becoming more critical as the resources increase. But what is certain is that companies are sitting up and paying attention, and with most of the storage vendors getting involved, it looks as if network attached storage will be a force to reckon with in the year 2000.