Storage Lego

Getting the right combination is the art and science of storage networking

December 13, 2006

3 Min Read
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My grandson's favorite game reminds me a lot of the storage market. Like putting together an "exo-force" with Lego pieces, organizing a blockbuster "transformer" in the data center calls for just the right set of elements, assembled in the right order.

The news is full of examples of this -- the alliance between HDS and BlueArc being the latest. (See HDS, BlueArc in Big NAS Deal.) Here we have a key storage vendor reaching out to partner with a nimbler, smaller (albeit not that small) player that has technology to extend the scalability and functionality of disk arrays.

The HDS/BlueArc deal, like many others lately, features NAS as the key Lego element for systems that incorporate file- and block-level capability. Last week, Dell announced the first storage system build around Microsoft's Windows Unified Data Storage Server 2003. (See Dell, Microsoft Team on NAS-Plus-iSCSI.) The key theme? Combining NAS with iSCSI block-level storage a la NetApp and HP. (See HP Fills In SMB Storage.)

A recent Byte and Switch poll confirmed user interest in the combined file-and-block approach to NAS, although quite a few questioned its immediate value to their sites.

Incidentally, check out our poll on the HDS and BlueArc pairing. We'd love to get your take.At least one analyst says the focus on NAS is just one way to view the Lego trend. "Behind every NAS there's always block storage," says Arun Taneja, founder of the Taneja Group consultancy. Whether vendors choose to link files to a NAS head or directly to block storage via iSCSI or Fibre Channel (as NetApp has done) really isn't all that different an approach to that of SAN vendors adding NAS heads to their wares (as 3PAR has done with various partners). (See ONStor, 3PAR Double-Team and 3PAR, ONStor Team.)

"There is an old saying that every SAN should have some NAS and any large-scale NAS should involve some SAN storage to meet different ... storage requirements," asserts Greg Schulz of the StorageIO consultancy. "Clustered NAS is not the fundamental cornerstone of tomorrow's hybrid file and block storage, as the cornerstone for all storage solutions will continue to be block devices with [various technologies] integrated on top."

SAN and NAS aren't the only Lego parts that are up for combination. The alliance between 3PAR and Polyserve, announced today, shows the ongoing demand for clustering technology as a key element of storage. (See 3PAR, PolyServe Partner.) Polyserve has similar arrangements with HP, Equallogic, and DataDirect Networks, for instance. (See DataDirect Bundles PolyServe and PolyServe, HP Deal Expands .)

Thinking of storage networking as a Lego challenge makes it simpler to follow the various partnerships and OEM arrangements in which the storage industry abounds. But how does a storage or IT manager choose the best combination of parts?

There is no right answer. Some organizations may need a solution that's Linux-based rather than Windows-based. Others have hardware preferences that put one underlying platform over another. Or, as Arun Taneja maintains, a company may be involved in direct dealings with a disk-drive maker and wish to retain control over the hardware in an array.Whatever the Lego approach, it's wise to suffer the fine points. "Do your homework to understand what [vendors] support and do not support," states Greg Schulz. "For example, does NAS mean only CIFS or NFS? Don't assume both. Likewise, is support for iSCSI or Fibre Channel an either/or proposition, meaning you can only use one at a time?"

In the end, the Lego approach enables IT pros to tailor products to their specific requirements. But it also calls for enormous diligence on the part of the consumer.

Still, the trend is clearly toward more combinations of storage technology, not less. Prepare for an ongoing challenge. And remember, we want to help. Tell us about combinations that please, baffle, or enrage you. We're all ears at [email protected]

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • DataDirect Networks Inc.

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • PolyServe Inc.

  • The StorageIO Group

  • Taneja Group

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