New choices in networked storage

Companies such as Agami Systems are taking on Network Appliance in NAS, SAN, and iSCSI

One of the best known names in NAS and iSCSI is Network Appliance, a company that has embraced SANs as well. Aneil Balkaran, manager of Windows on Unix at Consol Energy, runs an iSCSI SAN on a pair of clustered NetApp FAS 960 C boxes. These machines provide SAN and NAS all in the same unit. (See also "iSCSI: The rising enterprise star" and "The trends that shape iSCSI's trajectory.")

Now competition has arrived from a lesser known source. Agami Systems is attempting to do NAS better: four 64-bit AMD Opterons, enterprise class SATA drives, and a hyper-transport data link from AMD all in one AIS (Agami Information Server), a smallish box with low power consumption. In addition, this month Agami jumped into the SAN market with a new operating system, Agami OS 3.0, that will run across the entire AIS line and will support SAN as well as NAS.

Varma Kunaparaju, vice president of engineering at Luminalto, an IT services firm, is testing the product at a couple of client sites. “So far I am impressed with the stats,” Kunaparaju says. “Performance is comparable to that of a pure iSCSI device at four to 500MB output to applications. One of our clients is very close to making a purchase.”

In September, for those who really like it simple, HP released the AIO line. AIO stands for “All in One,” referring to both the SAN and NAS functionality that the line offers via block level iSCSI target and initiator support and file-level connectivity, all through Microsoft Windows Storage Server. The box is based on a Proliant DL 100 G2 and configured with four 250GB SATA drives and a dual port Ethernet interface. 

It was just in time for David Lay, who started looking at SAN and NAS options around the middle of last year. “I was disappointed at first,” he explains. “Prices started too high for the really decent solutions.” As director of information systems for Salem Law Group in Tampa, Fla., Lay runs IT for six different companies. “I have a limited budget, and can’t afford to experiment,” he says. Yet he ended up doing just that as a beta customer for HP’s AIO 400.

“It was point and click, that simple,” Lay says. “Within 20 minutes I had it set up and had migrated my Exchange Stores over to the AIO box. My app server stayed where it was.”

Tests went well, so Lay bought two boxes for about $10,000. He put one in a co-location site in Largo, Fla., and now does backup across the WAN using DFS.

“The iSCSI comes in between the AIO 400 box and my app sever,” Lay says. “It was too easy: I just plug into the Ethernet ports. If you want something more advanced you can even put a gigabit switch behind it. … If I didn’t know it was iSCSI I wouldn’t even think about it [IPStorage]. Now that we are done testing, I would be comfortable letting my administrative assistant set one of these systems up.”

According to IDC, HP will face stiff competition in the all-in-one, keep-it-simple space — from several vendors including Network Appliance and EMC. Just as they have for a while, SMBs seem to be reaping the benefits of the most exciting storage innovations.

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