Multilingual filers shatter storage-standard barriers
Competing file sharers from Adaptec, Celeros, Dell, and NetApp speak iSCSI, NFS, and CIFSFollow @pvenezia
As does a hydra, storage and file-sharing technologies have many heads, and these days, they seem to be moving in every direction at once. iSCSI is finally in the limelight and the push toward virtualization is only heating up that market. Meanwhile, NFS and CIFS, the old warriors of file sharing, aren't going anywhere soon. Fortunately, there are ways to get to iSCSI now through single "multilingual" filer packages.
Network Appliance once was really the only player in this space. The company's products have been speaking NFS and CIFS for ages, while most other storage vendors were off concentrating on FC (Fibre Channel) SANs. Much has changed: Most companies' filer systems now eschew FC for iSCSI on the SAN side, while providing native NFS and CIFS support. For shops that have a little bit of this and a little bit (or a lot) of that, these devices might be just the ticket. Bear in mind, though, the expression "jack of all trades, master of none."
I looked at four products in this space, all priced far below conventional SAN solutions. Surprisingly, Network Appliance was one, with its sub-$10K StoreVaultS500. Adaptec's Snap division was also represented in the form of the new Snap Server 650. Dell pitched its PowerVault NX1950, and Celeros delivered its brand-new EzSANFiler XD.
Most of these systems are SATA-based, but some can support SAS and SATA side by side, delivering the speed of SAS where it's needed, and the low cost of SATA where speed isn't the issue. Truth be told, none of these solutions is a speed demon; look to true SAN hardware if you need lightning-quick storage.
I put all four systems through the same series of tests. I ran the NFS gauntlet using IOMeter from a Dell PowerEdge 2950 with two dual-core 3.0GHz Intel Xeon CPUs and 2GB of RAM running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. I conducted the iSCSI tests using IOMeter on a Newisys N2100 dual-CPU Opteron server running Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft's iSCSI initiator without any hardware acceleration, and I ran CIFS tests from the Dell 2950 using the smbtorture suite of tests from the Samba project.
The numbers were generally all over the place. It was clear that the default configurations of these devices need to be
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Unlike SANs, however, you need more from these devices than performance; they need to integrate into existing environments in ways that SANs simply don't. They tie into Active Directory, they need to bind to NIS (network information service) domains, and they need to provide at least a modicum of iSCSI features such as LUN (logical unit number) masking and CHAP (Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol) authentication. They also need to be simple to install and manage, since it's almost a given that they will be deployed in environments without dedicated storage administrators. In short, they need to do a whole lot for very little.