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The Shift to NAS Gateways

  • September 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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As companies are faced with increasing financial pressures, flat budgets and no additional personnel to address an ever-increasing list of company-critical initiatives, demand is growing for storage options that are lower cost, easier to implement and simpler to manage. As a result, when companies are looking for ways to better leverage existing storage investments, more and more are turning to network attached storage (NAS) gateways rather than to traditional NAS appliances to achieve their goals.

A Market Shift

Historically, companies used NAS to quickly and easily deploy economical, file-based storage in distributed environments. NAS appliances were a perfect fit in those environments because they come preconfigured with the NAS head (or file server) and storage for easy integration and management within any existing IP network infrastructure.

Figure 1: NAS Gateway

Today, NAS appliances continue to be an excellent solution for companies that need fully integrated file storage packaged for specific applications, departments or locations. Although features vary by vendor, integrated NAS devices are much more robust than their counterparts of just a few years ago. They offer high-end features such as built-in availability, support for multiple file servers in a single unit, and the ability to upgrade online and nondisruptively for higher performance or availability.

What has changed is that now, NAS is not only a critical requirement in distributed environments, it is also a critical requirement in larger enterprise data centers where managers are looking to consolidate file-based storage for their users. That said, NAS requirements are different in these enterprise data centers. Data centers have already made significant investments in storage area network (SAN) storage and infrastructure management tools. In these environments, NAS appliances are not as cost effective when compared to NAS gateways because NAS gateways are highly optimized file servers that connect to a SAN to access storage. By leveraging existing toolsets to allocate and manage storage, gateways maintain the advantages of today's appliances - integrated high availability, support for multiple file servers in one unit and online nondisruptive upgrades - while utilizing the common storage pool for data.

In addition, NAS gateways offer increased flexibility by delivering greater performance, increased scalability and the ability to mix and match multiple tiers of storage (Fibre Channel and ATA) as well as different classes of storage arrays. Additionally, because NAS gateways separate the NAS head from the storage, they help lower administrative costs, avoid unnecessary hardware purchases and offer high-end NAS services at the price of most midtier appliances.

NAS gateways are fast becoming the de facto standard deployment model for the data center.

  • NAS gateways connect to the existing SAN and provide multiprotocol file services to clients connected to the IP network.
  • NAS gateways leverage SAN storage arrays for their capacity.
  • SAN management tools are used to provision and manage storage resources.
  • NAS gateways can leverage multiple storage arrays for increased performance.

Because storage requirements can evolve dramatically over time, it is critical that NAS systems offer the greatest possible flexibility and leverage the other elements of the storage infrastructure. Integrated NAS devices should enable companies to flexibly mix and match different types of storage and nondisruptively add file servers for higher performance and availability, as well as be upgraded to a gateway. NAS gateways can support a wide variety of SAN connectivity devices, as well as mix and match multiple tiers and classes of storage, and leverage existing management toolsets for SAN data. By optimizing storage assets, companies can achieve tremendous cost savings and drive the maximum value from information.

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