NetApp Makes Virtual Upgrade

Many features have yet to materialize, and support from EMC is lacking

March 30, 2005

3 Min Read
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Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) today announced what it calls a series of "multivendor virtualization solutions," though many of the key features are still on the drawing board (see NetApp V-Series Debuts).

Basically, NetApp is revamping its gFiler NAS, which features a SAN gateway compatible with various vendors' arrays, with a new series of boxes called the V-Series. NetApp is positioning the V-Series as a Virtualization engine that supports SAN, NAS, and IP SAN in one unit.

But there's little actual news to report. The V-Series looks and acts like the gFiler, with one main exception: A single V-Series unit now supports multiple arrays, albeit from one vendor. Previously, gFilers only supported one array per unit.

And that's it -- so far, anyway. But NetApp has a series of additional plans that could make things more interesting.

By the middle of this year, V-Series units will be able to support multiple arrays from different vendors. That means customers could conceivably link SANs from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to the back end of a single NAS.This future scenario sounds more interesting in light of NetApp's improved Data OnTap operating system, which runs on the V-Series. Announced in November 2004 (see NetApp Freshens What's OnTap ), the Data OnTap 7G software features the ability to create volumes across more than one spindle on a filer, through the use of thin provisioning. The software also supports writeable snapshots, or views of stored data at a given point in time. Previously, NetApps snapshots were read-only.

More features are in the works. The global namespace software that NetApp acquired with its purchase of Spinnaker Networks in 2003 will be added, even though it won't be fully integrated with the V-Series until 2006, NetApp spokespeople say. The delay has been common knowledge for months now, as engineers apparently must add features such as CIFS support to make the Spinnaker technology meet expectations.

Another roadblock to NetApp's full vision of the V-Series has to do with none other than rival EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). NetApp says many big customers have asked NetApp to add EMC array compatibility to the V-Series. But without a cooperative support agreement in place, NetApp can't do it.

"So far, EMC has been kind of unwilling to engage with us in a cooperative support arrangement," says Jeff Hornung, VP and general manager of enterprise file services and storage networking at NetApp.

"It's not going to ever happen," says one industry analyst, who asked not to be named. EMC, he says, finds the concept of supporting its major NAS rival just too unappetizing.EMC did not return calls for comment at press time.

There is no price premium on the V-Series compared with the older gFiler, and existing gFiler customers won't be charged for any upgrades to make their systems into V-Series units.

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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