In the IT industry where keeping up with the technology involves "talking the talk", TLAs (three letter acronyms) have been a way of keeping the IT crowd in and the Luddites out. On the other hand, TLA confusion can cause serious problems, and the storage market is a good example of an area victimised by acronym misunderstanding between two of its highest profile products.
The storage market has been beset by palindromic pandemonium since the emergence of NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (storage area network) solutions. And now that the former is migrating to the mid-market, vendors are anxious to clear up the confusion.
Compare and contrast
SANs are strong solutions for multiple user data access requirements, and generally regarded as very powerful - but highly complex - storage offerings. By comparison, NASs have developed into a fairly simple network appliance. However, as NAS solutions have become simplified, they have begun to move to the mid-market where on-staff IT resources are often pushed to the limit. The last thing staff want to contemplate is a SAN installation, so the channel has to clearly convey the differences between the technologies while avoiding alienating potential sales.
According to Peter Dawson, country director of storage vendor Iomega, recently emerging NAS technology has led to a change in the way vendors approach the sale. "People are making this whole networked storage thing out to be a lot more exotic that it needs to be," he says. "A SAN is something that you don't do lightly, and people are aware of that by now. However, when end users want big chunks of storage, NAS is far and away the cheapest, easiest and quickest option."
Similarly, IBM's volume products manager, Paul Cosgrove, is leveraging off the complexity associated with SANs to promote NAS solutions. "SAN is not for everyone because of the cost and complexity involved," he says. "Customers in the small market space are looking for a solution for a smaller environment, where companies don't have the skills in-house to run a network like this."
NAS: collaborating with the
However, the applicability of NAS to the mid-market is not limited to its simplicity. Technically it lends itself to workgroup environments where multiple users require access to the same information.
Designers, architects, multimedia producers, printing presses - Greig Guy, solutions sales director at storage vendor and integrator Hitachi Data Systems points out that these kinds of mid-market companies are more likely to require the sorts of environments facilitated with NAS technology. "NAS is very much a file-sharing type of product; it doesn't lend itself to a database environment," says Guy. "NAS is more a workgroup-type product; it is easy to implement and interfaces with either Windows or Unix clients without any real problems."
Abie Gelbart, product marketing manager for information storage vendor EMC, is adamant that any customer with storage requirements associated with accessing and updating information on a database should stick to SAN-based solutions. Those who want to simply share files should be looking at NAS. "Any company that is looking for a storage solution that supplies them with a collaborative data flow - where a lot of people want to share the same information at the same time - is really in the market for a NAS solution," he says.
Most industry pundits tend to
characterise NAS as applicable to "file server" environments where they offer a replacement for a file server at about a third of the cost. The combination of cost, ease of use and technological applicability makes NAS look increasingly suited to storage-reliant mid-market companies. "Most people in this space at the moment are solving their storage requirements by purchasing file servers; they could be investing in NAS at a third of the price, and not have to consider ongoing per seat' licensing costs," comments Iomega's Dawson.
According to Dataquest, the midrange workgroup market is looking at a 97 per cent compound annual growth rate over the next 12 months, with storage revenues set to grow by an estimated 130 per cent. While competition in storage marketing at the high end is fierce, the mid-market has been largely untouched by the frenzy.
The Australian arena
What's more, the Australian mid-market is sufficiently well suited to NAS technology that Hitachi Data Systems is using antipodean markets as a launch pad for technological innovation in this arena. "Our market has always been different from the US - we aren't dealing with the terabytes they have to contend with at the high end," says Guy. "The mid-market in Australia is more significant; we don't have many companies talking about terabytes, but there are a lot on the lookout for gigabytes."
The potential for NAS growth in the mid-market has not gone unnoticed by major vendors. With some traditionally high-end storage vendors migrating down, and some of the low-end vendors moving up, the NAS market is in danger of becoming swamped by solutions. "NAS is definitely becoming commoditised," Dawson says. "The margins are good right now but they are definitely going to erode over time."
However, he suggests that resellers focus on present opportunities that exist in a largely untapped market space. "Right now there is a huge market out there. There are some great opportunities for NAS resellers in the mid-market space, but it won't last for long as more people move into the space."
Just as we come to terms with the NAS and SAN debate, several new technologies are set to launch in our storage lexicon. Just around the corner are a series of new interfaces which could effect a complete overhaul of the storage market. While they all appear to work in the lab, the technologies and protocols - iSCSI, SoIP (Storage over Internet Protocol), FCIP (Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol), I-Storage and InfiniBand - for the most part remain in the product development phase.
IBM is on the verge of launching an iSCSI-based solution on the Australian market, and many other vendors have similar products under development. However, NAS resellers can rest assured: most of the newcomers to the storage scene are based on fibre channel infrastructure and IP protocols, and as a result will challenge SAN rather than NAS marketplaces.