Grid Fever Grips NetApp

Pending Spinnaker acquisition just the latest move in a long-term grid strategy, officials say

December 4, 2003

2 Min Read
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With its pending Spinnaker Networks Inc. acquisition, Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) hopes to be the first major storage-networking vendor to dive into grid computing. But NetApp officials, discussing the acquisition at a media and analyst event today, said they were headed in that direction before Spinnaker entered their sights.

The $300 million Spinnaker deal was announced last month and is expected to close in January (see NetApp Annexes Spinnaker). Assuming the deal goes through, NetApp will first tackle the problem of integrating its hardware with Spinnaker's, then start the long grind of merging the two companies' operating systems.

NetApp's grid obsession came from watching what was happening in the server world. Servers continue to get larger and carry more microprocessors, but another way to increase computing power is to scatter applications across multiple smaller servers. The idea is to give customers more processing power while avoiding the expense and engineering headaches of building infinitely larger servers.

"Storage has not responded to that trend," says Suresh Vasudevan, NetApp vice president of product marketing. "It's on a trajectory to build Cray-like machines."

Not that there's anything wrong with Cray-like machines, but NetApp officials figured most customers wouldn't want to foot the bill for them. They think a grid-like approach, combining multiple smaller systems, is the way to go.It's unclear when NetApp came up with the idea, but Vasudevan points out that the company's products have several attributes that would be useful on a grid -- among them, the ability to separate data into different classes (very important, not-so-important, etc.) for storage.

Spinnaker contributes some key technologies, too. Its products allow a cluster to have a single logical image, so that it looks like one storage device to the user. And a good deal of the company's engineering has been devoted to quality-of-service issues, trying to avoid long delays in sifting through the grid nodes to find data.

Other startups are tackling grid storage -- Isilon Systems and Panasas Inc. among them (see Isilon Dives Into NAS Pool and IPass Posts Strong Q3). But Spinnaker's method seems the simplest, says Vasudevan. The grid doesn't require a master server; each node publishes its information to the others, much the same way IP routers communicate. And Spinnaker doesn't require any software to be loaded onto client systems, a step that could become unmanageable as an enterprise grows, Vasudevan says.

NetApp officials believe they are the first large NAS company to dive into the grid, but plenty of startups will offer competition. Among them -- though it won't say exactly what it's doing -- is Pillar Data Systems, a company funded by Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) CEO and grid proponent Larry Ellison (see Pillar Data Systems).

Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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