NAS Deals Fall Short

NAS Deals Fall Short Recent NAS alliances bring on more players, but they don't advance the technology

May 4, 2005

3 Min Read
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Network-attached storage (NAS) is increasingly becoming a team sport. Too bad all the recent maneuvering among storage titans leaves the same old holes in the technology.

At the heart of recent NAS news is the heavyweight matchup, with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) on one side, and EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) on the other (see Dell Adds a NAS, IBM, NetApp Ink OEM Pact, and Cisco & EMC Close NAS Deal).

The message is simple: NetApp and EMC dominate the NAS market, and other large players had best work with one of them rather than compete on their own.

But what's it all mean for users? Not much, except they can buy NAS systems in more places. And just because customers can get EMCs NAS systems from Cisco or Dell, or buy NetApp gear from IBM, doesn’t fix any NAS usability problems.

Instead, the major players have left the real problems of enterprise NAS to a whole submarket that includes startups like Acopia Networks Inc., NeoPath Networks, NuView Inc., ONStor Inc., and Rainfinity. These and other small players offer crucial NAS elements unavailable from the big boys.Some of these wares enable NAS to be manageable as it scales (see Coping With the Nasty Side of NAS). Some allow customers to share storage across multiple NAS devices and even improve performance (see File Systems Boost NAS).

Let's look more closely at a couple of these areas. EMC and NetApp lack native global namespace, which provides each file a name that allows any server to access it. Without global namespace, managing storage over multiple NAS filers is a major headache. To get global namespace, EMC and NetApp partner with startups such as Acopia, NuView, and Rainfinity (see NuView Expands Namespace, NetApp Smiles on Rainfinity, and Acopia Becomes EMC Partner).

NetApp acquired the technology when it bought Spinnaker Networks in 2003, but it won’t have Spinnaker’s operating system fully integrated into its Data OnTap OS before 2006. Hence, it still needs partners to make it work (see NetApp Freshens What's OnTap and NetApp Annexes Spinnaker).

Another problem is support for heterogeneous hardware. NetApp says its new V-Series filers will eventually support SANs from IBM, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), but not EMC (see NetApp Makes Virtual Upgrade). EMC’s NAS gateways connect only to its own SAN arrays.

That’s where another startup, ONStor, comes in (see ONStor Hits NAS Gas and ONStor Releases NAS Gateway). OnStor gateways connect to SAN arrays from EMC, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Sun, 3PAR Inc., Engenio Information Technologies Inc., Nexsan Technologies Inc., and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK).By the way, in this area we probably won't see EMC seeking partners -- after all, it’s not in the NAS business to connect to other vendors’ SANs.

Ofcourse, not all NAS players side with EMC or NetApp. Hitachi recently dissolved its partnership with NetApp to start selling its own NAS (see NAS Up Next for Hitachi). Other startups such as Isilon Systems and Panasas Inc. have NAS systems targeted to markets such as digital photography, film, and life sciences that take advantage of their integral distributed file systems (see Isilon Scores Super Bowl Storage and Panasas: Lab Rat No More).

Still, most of the distributed file NAS players will find it more lucrative to complement EMC and NetApp than compete with them. Yet, it would be easier for customers to have those complementary capabilities built into their NAS systems natively.

Competition will eventually force EMC and NetApp to fully integrate distributed file systems that they currently rely on startups to get. Given the big vendors’ track records, they are more likely to buy than build those capabilities. That’s when we’ll see meaningful NAS alliances.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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