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NASg: A Low-Cost Cure For Storage Sprawl

With last week's release to beta of NASg, a network-attached storage system from Gridstore, small businesses and service providers have a new way to fight storage sprawl that doesn't involve a forklift. The solution creates a scalable storage grid costing about a third of similar solutions available today and is managed through a Microsoft Management Console snap-in. The cost of entry will start at around US$800 for one terabyte and around $300 per terabyte thereafter.

The system is built around the NASg Storage Block, a reference design with one or two Intel Atom processors running Windows XP Embedded on 1GB of RAM with a 1Gb Ethernet port and either a 1TB or 2TB SATA drive. NASg nodes appear to grid clients as an ordinary lettered Windows network drive available to applications and users. As nodes are added and virtualized, they automatically become part of the storage pool and add to storage bandwidth. An unlimited number of nodes can be added. File sharing is via CIFS (common internet file system), and on tap are iSCSI and NFS protocols. "We hope to have iSCSI by mid 2010," said Gridstore CEO Kelly Murphy in an e-mail.

With NASg, Gridstone is targeting managed service providers (MSP), whose choices for low-priced NAS systems are currently limited to a small handful of brands. "In the past, we have implemented many network [and] direct attached storage solutions, depending on the specific needs of our customer," said Gerry McHugh, director of MSP Ashelle Networks, in an e-mail interview. "The Netgear and Iomega NAS devices are the ones we have used the most, as they were probably best value for the money for the customer." Ashelle has been beta testing the NASg software on a few of its own servers, McHugh said, and for file storage on its internal network. "One of the key areas I see us using it is in the backup/DR [disaster recovery] side of things," he said.

As a Microsoft Solution Provider, most of Ashelle's work is on Microsoft platforms. It also uses Microsoft's Disaster Protection Manager, which first backs up to disk and then transfers an off-site copy to removable media. "A large amount of capacity is required for this disk version, and in the past it has been quite expensive to achieve this. The NASg devices will greatly reduce the cost."

Performance of NASg is roughly comparable to that of its competitors, wrote networking consultant Howard Marks in a recent blog post analyzing the news. "With Gridstore promising performance of 25-30MB/s per client, a four- or five-node cluster should deliver better performance than a four-bay SOHO NAS from Iomega or Netgear for about the same price." Marks, chief scientist at Networks Are Our Lives Inc., also points out that when that four-bay NAS is full, users have essentially two options: "Upgrade and migrate or, even worse, add a second NAS and spend your whole life trying to balance them."

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