an engineering company with technical expertise, Network
Appliance (NetApp) has evolved to an $800 million enterprise
storage provider. In its 10 years of existence it has
survived the dot-com crash (much of its business once
came from dot-coms), and competed head on with storage
giants like EMC and HP. Dave Hitz, Executive VP Engineering
and founder Network Appliance, tells Network Magazine
how he survives in a highly competitive market. He also
sets the record straight on a few technical issues concerning
NAS and storage virtualization. by Brian Pereira
NAS market seems to be lucrative because a majority
of enterprises are more interested in low-cost storage
solutions. As a result, new players like Dell are getting
into NAS storage. What's your strategy for maintaining
leadership for NAS devices?
Our strategy is based on two things. Firstly, it's the
Business Relationship. Customers want a high assurance,
technical competency kind of relationship with the vendor.
Our new competitors have not been good at establishing
that kind of enterprise relationship (for storage and
servers). Secondly, you need to invest in technology.
You need to have a single solution for NAS, SAN, Unix
and NT. The new competitors do not invest as much in
technology as we do.
Can you elaborate on your recent alliance with Hitachi?
Are you also considering partnerships with IBM and EMC?
If so, what will be the nature of those partnerships?
Here's the relationship that we've established with
Hitachi. NAS systems need to have storage at the backend.
So our NAS capability ties up to Hitachi's SAN capability.
Our NAS devices will be a front-end to their SAN. Many
people have already purchased Hitachi equipment. They
tell us they'd like to access their SANs through our
NAS devices, so that relationship makes a lot of sense.
A similar partnership could be possible with IBM. EMC
is our number one competitor so it's very difficult
to imagine a business relationship with them. The issues
here are less technical and more business related.
How did you convince Oracle to be your strategic partner
for storage solutions?
When we first approached Oracle they said they weren't
interested in new technology. They wanted to know how
we could help customers save money. So we did a study
with a (consulting) company called Input. Input did
a test of Oracle databases running on top of storage
from Sun, EMC and Network Appliance. And they found
that with NetApp, the TCO was 25 percent the cost of
EMC. We went back and showed this to Oracle. Three years
ago Oracle had almost zero NetApp storage, today it
has over 400 terabytes of storage on our systems.
There are two reasons why Oracle decided to work closely
with NetApp: One is to save money. The second is Grid
Computing. There are companies that use thousands of
Linux computers and these all access the same storage.
this is used for technical computing: software development,
chip design, oil & gas (seismic processing), Hollywood
special effects. But Oracle believes this will soon
be used for business computing.
Oracle talks about its 9i Rack program and the challenge
of running it on thousands of Linux computers. The challenge
is for these thousands of computers to access the same
storage. So we do joint technical work for enabling
multiple Linux computers with a network backend of storage
(either NAS or SAN).
You once offered only NAS solutions. What prompted
you to move to SAN solutions, and other related areas
There are two reasons for this. Many of our customers
told us they had requirements for both NAS and SAN.
They wanted us to be their vendor for both types of
The second reason is the technology. If you look at
the technology we have developed for managing files
(snapshots, data replication, remote location), it's
similar to the technology for virtualized environments.
People in the industry are talking about features they
wish they could have. We have already developed those
features for NAS. If we could adapt those capabilities
for SAN we will already have the features that people
Can NAS and SAN co-exist on the same network?
Today people do not run NAS and SAN on the same network.
NAS is a TCP/IP based solution while SAN works on fiber
channel. When people say they have installed "a
big SAN," they really mean they have installed
a fiber channel network.
So you need two separate networks for NAS and SAN. Five
years from now people will not want to have separate
networks. Ninety percent of applications can run on
both NAS and SAN. Typically SAN is used for high-end
applications. There are a few applications designed
to run specifically on SANs.
Then there are other applications that are more suitable
for NAS. For instance, home directories for a thousand
users just has to run on NAS.
Because there are a small number of applications that
run only on SAN or only on NAS, it presents a management
challenge for people who want to run both these types
of applications in their environment.
The determining factor for most people (in deciding
on NAS or SAN) will not be technical. The decision will
be influenced by business planning/requirement. Of course,
it also depends on the existing infrastructure for which
they made huge investments in the past.
A problem with NAS devices is that they take up too
much bandwidth, especially during backup and disaster
recovery. What's the solution?
There are two solutions. NAS systems (like ours) can
attach to a fiber channel network for backup. The second
solution is to have dedicated bandwidth for backup.
Some customers will connect to a fiber channel network
for backup while others will buy a new switch, and build
a dedicated network over TCP/IP, for backup. You can
attach a tape device directly to a NAS solution.
Many vendors and users are talking about Storage
Virtualization these days. What's needed for virtualization
to become widespread? What does NAS virtualization bring
to the table?
The old thinking was that for high performance computing
you needed the shortest and fastest path to the disk.
The new thinking is that performance is not the most
important thing because all the new computers are fast.
The more important issue becomes manageability and flexibility
as you change your business.
So everybody is starting to ask questions about Virtualization.
They ask what layer of software is needed to run on
top of all these disks to make them look like one virtual
pool. If you look closely at virtualization, it has
very much the same capabilities that file systems already
To fully understand storage virtualization one must
understand the three things that could go wrong with
disk drive storage. Firstly, it's not big enough. A
customer's storage requirement exceeds existing capacity.
The solution is to take a large number of disk drives
and combine them into a single file system. The customer
would try to manage the various disks as one large storage
pool, and that's storage virtualization. With our solution
you take a large number of NAS filers and put them on
the network, then make them all visible as a single
Secondly, the disk drive is too big. There may be a
thousand users and each needs to save a few MS Word
documents, which are very small compared to the size
of the disk drive. So I would like to take a small number
of disk drives on a system and virtually partition these
so that I can allocate sufficient storage to each user
as per his requirements. The solution is to take a single
system and chop it into pieces, and say this part is
for project-1, this is for project-2, etcand hand
out the data that way.
The third problem is heterogeneous storage. Some customers
have solutions from different vendors and find it too
complicated to manage. The way to manage all these different
storage solutions is to follow open standards for NAS
and SAN. We can solve this problem by following open
standards and working with the partners (who are into
data management). We have partnerships with IBM Tivoli,
CA Unicenter, HP OpenView, and many smaller companies.
More open standards are needed for virtualization to
Brian Pereira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org