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Issue of December 2002 
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A new storage paradigm is born

The merging of network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN) reached a significant milestone last month when Network Appliance announced its genre-breaking storage device, the FAS900.

A first in the industry, the move was also a departure from Network Appliance's mainstay NAS business. In his keynote in New York during the product launch, founder and executive vice-president of engineering, Dave Hitz, admitted that the company is bowing to popular demand and the rising strength of the SAN market.

"You can't imagine how weird it is for me to stand here and talk about our new product, after years of talking about how SAN sucks," he said. "The reason is simple. It is what customers are asking for," he said, jesting that, "In this economy, if a customer wants to give you money, you take it!"

With the FAS900, Hitz is hoping that enterprises will bite its integrated SAN and NAS pitch. He claimed that "MIS are tired of always weighing between block data or file, NAS or SAN," adding that in terms of cost justification, having SAN and NAS in one package makes good sense.

More on FAS
The new FAS900 family comprises 2 classes of devices. The FAS960 and FAS940 can be outfitted with up to 448 disk drives—with the FAS960 capable of 32TB, and the FAS940 18TB. The FAS960c and FAS940c have half the rackspace—up to 224 drives, with the FAS960c capable of 16TB, and the FAS940 9TB. The new drives run on the Data ONTAP software version 6.3. The new upgrade can also be applied to Network Appliance's existing line of NAS, specifically the F880 and F825.

"It means you are dealing with one set of manuals, one training class, one operating system and one management console. And the situation where your NAS is full and SAN is half-empty can be easily addressed. The real benefit to all this is saving money."

In terms of convergence, the FAS900 integrates both SAN and NAS systems in the same box, with a combined disk capacity of up to 32 TB (48 TB with future software upgrades is promised). Unlike NAS gateways, the industry's current attempt at merging SAN and NAS, the FAS900 features a truer block and file data integration, as well as common disk usage for both SAN and NAS applications. Where the NAS gateways sold by EMC, Auspex and others require discrete disk partitions to be pre-defined, the FAS900 is more fluid, with dynamically expandable logical unit numbers (LUN), as well as the ability to allocate storage between volumes and LUNs.

Network Appliance painted several scenarios why this is important for enterprises. For example, dynamic LUN configuration means that IT managers can easily scale their SAN or NAS usage. And since they can now switch between NAS to SAN, and vice versa, on the fly, software testing becomes easier and more flexible. A second highlight of the FAS900 is multi-protocol support. The FAS900 subsumes nearly all current storage network access protocols into a cloud-like 'fabric' interface, which features Network Appliance's in-house Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL) file system and LUN semantics software. Protocols supported include fibre-channel, SCSI, iSCSI, NFS, CIFS and DAFS. For now, integration of disk arrays do not extend to other makes, although Network Appliance indicated that this is in the offing. For Hitz, storage "must go the way of networking, where the rule is that every device must speak multiple protocols."

At a product demo in its New York launch, there were sharp intakes of breath in the packed demo room when a Network Appliance spokesperson explained how future databases can take advantage of FAS900's multi-protocol storage access, and implement databases that can be updated simultaneously from multiple clients and applications.
For example, a database that is being written via blocks of data can be queried simultaneously via a query engine from a file-based client.

"Provided that your application is strong enough to do such a 'mind-meld', this can be a powerful feature," said Chris Bennet, Director for platforms and systems, Product Marketing, Network Appliance.

He added that Oracle is presently working to incorporate such a feature. The FAS900 will be widely available by this December.

- Ong Boon Kiat in New York.

This article first appeared in Network Computing - Asian Edition

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