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NAS Systems Offer Lifeline To Overburdened Networks.

Data explosion drives networks (and system administrators) to the breaking point

The exponential increase in network data is propelling many storage managers to consider new storage architectures. Fueled by an increase in email and Internet usage and data-intensive applications, traditional server-based storage solutions are being pushed to the breaking point. Even beyond bottlenecks, network crashes, and data corruption, the need for management and day-to-day troubleshooting is beginning to dominate the time and attention of network personnel and continues to drive administration costs.

While many storage vendors offer a storage alternative based on Storage Area Networks (SANs), there hasn't been a cost effective way for organizations to move gradually into a storage-centric network without buying the whole store--until now. Network-Attached Storage (NAS) is taking on the role of introducing a new storage-centric model in mainstream applications. The first NAS implementations are offering a surprising ability to support the specific needs of these applications, while being simple to deploy, easy to administer, and cheap to buy.

NAS Offers Easy Transition To Storage-Centric Computing

The storage-centric model allows for backup and expansion of storage resources without impacting the processing functions of a network. With NAS, you can link the best of the two worlds--storage and networking (Fig 1). Instead of forcing servers to do a job they weren't expressly designed for--data storage, delivery, and management--server resources are freed up to run applications. NAS systems take over the critical storage tasks.

A Look Behind NAS Technology

There are many NAS vendors in the market with large (enterprise) storage solutions and smaller players with one or two drive solutions. Recently, companies have staked out a new niche in the market and offer department-level solutions. These solutions offer the high performance and high reliability requirements of today's enterprise and are simple to deploy and operate. For example, the Connex N3000 NAS system can be up and running in less than 10 minutes. All that is required is power, a network connection, and a valid IP address to serve and store critical data. A look behind this type of NAS technology sheds light upon common user requirements and the future of enterprise storage.

* Workgroup and remote computing - Traditional server and storage systems were difficult for "non-techies" to configure and operate, but, as more and more organizations open remote offices and try to meet the Computing needs of mobile and remote workers, the ability to easily access, store, and maintain data becomes increasingly important. Effective NAS system need to be designed to help departmental work groups and remote offices access and store mission-critical data. It doesn't require a full-time system administrator because it is easy to operate and doesn't need dedicated on-site IT staff intervention.

* Ease of installation - Adding a NAS system to an already overworked server can immediately increase storage capacity--either to all or selected users. Installation can be as simple as attaching power and network cables, entering the IP address information through the front panel, setting up volumes, shares, and access privileges, and migrating data from the overworked general-purpose server (and their clients). The newly installed device then acts as the primary provider of file and print services for all authorized clients on the network, while freeing up network capacity.

* Improve existing server and network performance - By widely deploying NAS across network trouble zones, administrators can realize a substantial increase in their existing application server, as well as experiencing enhanced network performance due to the removal of long queues for file and print services. This benefit can be achieved by implementing one of the currently available NAS systems.

* Decrease storage management and administration burdens - Once clients migrate to a NAS device, they come under control of the NAS' internal, self-contained storage management and administration software. Many NAS systems do not offer users a comprehensive solution for managing the NAS device. Best-of-breed systems offer a built-in diagnostics management system that alerts users to potential problems via their preferred method, including dashboard displays, SMTP messaging, and paging.

* Ability to take control of an "out of control" network - Imagine an IT environment with Windows NT servers and a standard Operating System (OS) platform using multiple types of Windows systems resident on the desktop (Windows '9X and Windows NT). Windows NT services (file shares, print spoolers, etc.) are deployed over several general-purpose servers [Primary Domain Controller (PDC) and Backup Domain Control (BDC)] with line of business applications residing on dedicated application servers (Exchange, SQL Server, IIS, etc.). This typical NT deployment used by countless organizations around the world is representative of the areas where NAS can be quickly deployed to alleviate major headaches.

* Support for future storage systems - Finally, when evaluating NAS systems, it is important to fully maximize your storage investment--today and into the future. Leading edge systems provide a platform that extends well beyond the simplistic, browser-driven setup and administration offered on many current systems. The N3000 was developed with future SAN topologies in mind. It can support backend Fibre Channel single or double-loop fabric environments. This will allow the N3000 to act as a front-end, network-based processor for back-end SANs or connectivity to other storage devices, as well as to support such applications as server-less backup.

Looking Forward

In order to make optimization and management of multiple NAS systems simple, vendors such as Connex are developing a management package that features easy-to-use application templates. Templates allow administrators to choose among pre-set and variable options in respect to each critical setup variable that the NAS supports.

Connex templates are components of Perspective, a software management platform. Perspective enables centralized management through a Java application from anywhere on the network. It allows network administrators the ability to scale from NAS into a more comprehensive SAN system on a later date. Using Perspective, administrators can manage multiple NAS installations from a single console, no matter what application or service-specific mode in which they are operating. Future releases will also manage SANs (that may include NAS systems). This managed scalability approach to storage will allow network administrators to manage and monitor its NAS, as well as its SANs using a single set of software tools.

A Storage Building Block

NAS is the first step in freeing IT from non-productive, resource issues. Whether these systems are deployed to relieve bottlenecks and capacity issues from file and print services or to support growing Web-based service environments, they can be easily deployed to provide substantial network relief, but NAS is not just a point solution. It can be leveraged into Storage Area Networks as this storage architecture becomes more widely used in the future (Fig 2).

Bob Williamsen is the vice president of marketing at Connex, Inc. (San Jose, CA). Key Features of the best-of-breed NAS systems

* Full redundancy in key components (power supply, fans, etc.). Additionally, it offers a RAID data protection scheme for maximum availability. Supports both hot swappable, as well as hot-standby drives to minimize the impact of any device failure.

* Built-in PCI-expansion slots to support Fibre Channel (loop and fabric) attachment and an isolated external SCSI bus to accommodate the connection of additional drive enclosures or tape libraries to the device (to support NDMP off LAN backup schemes).

* Supports multiple network platform file sharing protocols (NFS for Unix and CIFS for Windows).

* Supports and auto-senses all types of Ethernet from 10MB/sec to 100MB/sec. Future upgrades of the N3000 will also offer 10MMB/sec to 1,000MB/sec.

* Comprehensive, built-in diagnostics management with error reporting via dashboard displays, as well as SMTP messaging and paging.

* Can be configured and managed via a front panel display, as well as through the use of a simple web-browser. Centralized management and monitoring of multiple NAS systems via a single console.

* Is SAN-ready. It can be deployed in any type of SAN environment when IT migrates to such a topology. Re-deployment is as simple as installing a FC host bus adapter in one of its PCI slots and setting up the SAN as its back end storage environment.
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Williamsen, Bob
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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