With so much of the action in storage products these days concentrated on software solutions and storage-area network (SAN) products, network-attached storage (NAS) has fallen from the spotlight somewhat. SAN prices have made the approach of a clustered disk pool more palatable to enterprises of all sizes, and the management of SANs turns out to be simpler than adding scores of horizontally scaled NAS devices to a network--each one requiring its own time-consuming Web-based management.
Software vendors haven't helped much, with multi-NAS management software usually taking a one-vendor approach. That's not good at a time when vendors are integrating the heterogeneous SMI-S standard into SAN products.
Is there still a role for NAS in current enterprise network architectures? Storage Pipeline columnist Jon William Toigo says there should be--as a perfect gateway for a SAN. Toigo argues that NAS products--with some tweaks to support IP-based network-file system protocols and IP-based block-storage protocols--would be a perfect management system for IP-SANs and other SAN setups. In such a system, NAS's scalability issues go away, handled on the back-end SAN architecture, while administrators could tap the value in lower-cost NAS products and maintain a one-point management system.
A few companies are looking at other kinds of storage hybrids. Network Appliance recently released a gateway system aimed at helping companies move data smoothly between NAS and SANs. A Los Gatos, Ca.-based startup, ONStor, has shipped a NAS appliance that's designed to connect to hard drives on SAN arrays. Another company, Irvine, Ca.-based Iogear, is aiming at the small business market with a NAS device that also builds in an Ethernet switch, a cable/DSL router, and VPN and FTP server capability. And Toigo says Silicon Graphics is working on a truly clustered NAS system, where each device can work in concert with all the others.
For the large enterprise already invested in SANs and NAS systems, though, nobody has yet pulled the two worlds together. Maybe it's time.