If your company has been hard-pressed to choose between Fibre Channel (FC) and Internet SCSI ( iSCSI) or between block-level and file-level systems for your next round of storage purchases, consider one of the entry-level FAS200 (Fabric Attached Storage) appliances from Network Appliance.
NetApp's FAS200 line of products for SMBs let you have your storage every which way. Featuring the unrivaled unified storage architecture from NetApp, FAS appliances support concurrent file and block serving from the same box, and simultaneous access from FC and iSCSI hosts. In addition, the modular architecture of the FAS200 line allows you to easily expand storage capacity to as much as 4TB in a single enclosure.
To add even more capacity, you can build a FAS200 into a larger model by adding more enclosures.
This combination of flexibility, scalability, and continuity is unmatched in the storage industry, and should play especially well with fast-growing companies.
After reviewing the FAS270C, a clustered configuration that offers as much as 6TB of nominal capacity over 42 drives, I can only add that its unique characteristics go hand-in-hand with top-notch performance, superb management software, and mission-critical dependability. The appliance should be suitable for just about any business willing to foot the bill.
It's no secret that much of NetApp's success is due to Data ONTAP, the proprietary operating system that runs on every NetApp appliance, ranging from the 2TB FAS250 to the larger FAS900 units that support hundreds of drives and tens of terabytes.
Over the years, NetApp has extended the functionality of Data ONTAP, initially devoted to file serving, with support for additional protocols such as the block-oriented FC and iSCSI transport. In addition, the common OS simplifies porting management applications and application interfaces to specific databases or e-mail systems across the full range of NetApp equipment.
For my review, NetApp prepared a dedicated rack containing all the storage switches and servers for my tests.
The FAS270C I tested had two resilient 3U enclosures, each mounting 14 Seagate 72GB FC drives for about 2TB of capacity; the unit also accepts 36GB and 144GB drives to maximize either performance or capacity.
In the back of each enclosure, the FAS270C mounts what NetApp calls "shrunken heads". These are in essence compact servers running Data ONTAP that manage all the storage operations of the unit. Each shrunken head packs a Broadcom SB1250 MIPS processor, two GbE NICs, two FC ports, and a serial port for diagnostics.
In the cluster I tested, each box included two shrunken heads cross-connected to the other enclosure for redundancy.
Fail-over capabilities are a primary concern, so one of my initial tests was to launch a simple application to write data to the FAS270C and then, to simulate a malfunction, I removed one of the heads. As expected, the application continued unaffected. The array quickly returned to normal when I reinserted the head.
Built to Grow
Part of my test plan was to verify the management and update capability of the FAS270. Adding more space to a volume, creating additional logical unit numbers (LUNs), and doing other administrative tasks proved straightforward using one of the management applications.
The FAS270C can be easily managed either via CLI or, using the array-resident FilerView application, from a browser. Despite the name, FilerView does much more than offer a view of the appliance. In fact, FilerView is probably the only application that a storage admin will ever use. It simplifies every aspect of managing NetApp's multifaceted arrays, including creating LUNs, defining shared directories for Unix and Windows, and setting up mirrors and snapshots.
For Windows shops, NetApp offers SnapDrive, an extension to the Microsoft Management Console that takes over configuring and monitoring iSCSI drives and connections to each host. Thanks to SnapDrive, I never had to use the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator during my tests.
FilerView's only drawback is that its scope is limited to a single array. For installations with multiple arrays, NetApp provides DataFabric Manager, another powerful administrative tool that is networkwide in scope. DataFabric Manager not only complements FilerView, but the two are so tightly integrated, it was often difficult for me to tell them apart.
One of my tests was to migrate a storage enclosure from the FAS270C to an adjacent FAS940, after which I used DataFabric Manager to verify that the migrated data was still accessible and consistent. The migration itself was easy.
The first step is to replace the shrunken head in the enclosure with a "dummy" module, which I accomplished with the assistance of a NetApp engineer. Then, connecting the enclosure to the FAS940 controller was all it took to complete the job. The FAS940 recognized the new enclosure, and DataFabric Manager reported that everything was in order.
According to some critics, unified storage solutions such as NetApp's offer slightly inferior performance to devices dedicated exclusively to serving storage in blocks.
In my tests, I did not find that to be true. The FAS270C was equally responsive when challenged with a load simulator for Microsoft Exchange, with Iometer scripts, or with a simple "xcopy" of large directories.
The FAS270C doesn't come cheap, but it's so close to the ideal of a multipurpose, scalable, and high-performance storage solution that you truly get what you pay for. If your business can't afford to miss a beat, you couldn't do better than entrusting your data to the clustered version of the FAS200.
Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Centre.
The product is distributed in Australia through resellers/distributors ASI, Secure Data Group and XSI.