OS Competition Heats Up NAS Market

The race for leadership in the NAS market is pitting three operating systems against each other in a pretty contentious contest.

May 3, 2004

3 Min Read
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The race for leadership in the NAS market is pitting three operating systems against each other in a pretty contentious contest.

One of the three, Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003, is the central operating system of NAS appliances from a variety of vendors, which range in size from Iomega to such big-name vendors as Hewlett-Packard and EMC.

The two other operating systems are proprietary to specific vendors that specialize in NAS appliances, including the Data ONTAP operating system from Network Appliance, a leader in the enterprise space, and the GuardianOS from Snap Appliance, which is strong in the workgroup and department markets and moving into the enterprise-class appliance space.

Marcus Schmidt, senior product manager for Microsoft's Windows Storage Server, said NAS appliances running Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's operating system are expected to account for about half of all appliances in the market by the end of this year, citing information from research firms IDC and Gartner.

Since Windows Storage Server 2003 is a subset of Windows Server 2003, a key advantage to customers using it for NAS appliances is seamless interoperability with Windows environments, Schmidt said. Windows-based NAS boxes also scale from a 1-Gbyte model to 60-plus Tbytes. Most importantly, he said, customers can choose from multiple vendors.Snap is mainly known for volume NAS appliances in the workgroup market, said Steve Rogers, director of technical marketing at the San Jose, Calif.-based vendor. However, he said, Snap introduced a new appliance line that scales from 5 Tbytes up to 29 Tbytes.

In the enterprise, Snap typically competes with either NetApp, Sunnyvale, Calif., or with vendors producing iSCSI products, Rogers said. In the workgroup and small-business space, it is common to sell against Microsoft. "They're moving up," he said.

Thanks to recent licensing deals with Microsoft, NetApp now offers full compatibility with Windows-based NAS appliances despite the use of its own proprietary operating system for building appliances, said Rod Mathews, senior director of marketing at NetApp.

More specifically, NetApp licensed several tasks from Microsoft, including file serving using Microsoft's Common Internet File System protocol as well as compatibility with Microsoft's Active Directory and security, Mathews said. "If you choose, you can create a non-Windows device that fully [interoperates] with Windows," he said.

NetApp offers simplicity, as its operating system was designed specifically for NAS applications, and not from modifying a general-purpose OS, Mathews said. "Windows Storage Server 2003 was changed from Windows Server 2003 for the initial setup only. But once it's installed, it's no different from any other Windows server," he said.Mathews said that Windows Storage Server is growing fast in terms of an OS on which NAS appliances are built. However, he said much of that growth is at the expense of Windows Server, which many solution providers have traditionally used with a low-end server and direct-attached storage to build NAS-equivalent devices. "I see [their market growth] as a shift from Windows file servers to Windows Storage Server," he said.

Yet, Schmidt said that while Windows servers were used to serve files in the past, the move to Windows Storage Server-powered NAS appliances does not affect overall OS sales.

While the competition between the three main NAS players heats up as they move more into each other's markets, solution providers stick with their favorites depending on their experience and their clients' requirements.

For Eryck Bredy, president of Bredy Network Management, a Woburn, Mass., solution provider, configuring file servers using Windows is still a better alternative to Windows Storage Server-based NAS appliances for his small-business clients. When a customer asks specifically for a NAS appliance, Bredy recommends Dell for its convenience. However, for most customers, Bredy said he still serves files with a 1U HP ProLiant server with local storage. "When customers outgrow a NAS, they need to buy another," he said. "For them, it makes more sense to keep the server separate from the storage [and just add more capacity]."

Alliance Technology Group, a Hanover, Md.-based solution provider, focuses on NetApp for its NAS customers and seldom sees competition in the enterprise from other vendors, even in a Windows environment, said Hope Hayes, president. "Our customers deal in mixed environments," she said. "You can always use a NetApp somewhere."0

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