ONStor isolates file systems management from the underlying storage. In fact, the Bobcat gateways can consolidate capacity from many popular storage arrays, which makes it a convenient solution to properly use already-installed equipment while improving NAS performance, scalability, and manageability.
Each Bobcat can create numerous virtual servers that isolate specific applications or performance targets. Moving virtual servers across gateways is transparent to the user and simplifies balancing an uneven load or optimizing performance for a demanding virtual server.
Not all NAS is created equal
It’s fair to say that clustered NAS may not be a major purchase target at present, but that hasn’t stopped many vendors from improving their NAS products in other ways. For example, earlier this year EMC released the MPFSi (Multipath File System over iSCSI), a solution that channels access to NFS and CIFS file systems over iSCSI.
MPFSi adds some layer of complexity to NAS because it requires Fibre Channel-to-iSCSI bridging on a Connectrix MDS switch and both a proprietary agent and iSCSI Initiator software to be loaded on each client, but EMC claims performance improvements as much as four times better than plain NAS.
“[MPFSi is] not a clustered NAS approach, but it goes after the same problem,” says Brian Garrett, technical director of the Enterprise Strategy Group’s ESG Lab.
Similarly, Sun recently added the StorageTek 5320, a NAS model based on a new AMD architecture that performs “at least 50 percent higher than the previous 5310,” according to Sun, and pushes scalability up to 179TB.
Other vendors are either nurturing existing solutions based on parallel file systems — Exanet, IBM, Ibrix, Panasas, and SGI come to mind — or are forming close partnerships with other vendors to bring that technology within their offering, such as Hewlett-Packard’s and Microsoft’s relationships with Polyserve.
Will these and the other clustered NAS mentioned earlier remain just niche solutions, indispensable to a few customers but largely ignored by the majority of companies? Perhaps the most interesting answer to that question comes from NetApp, a company that ironically is often the target of many “beat the old-fashioned NAS” campaigns. (Remember the “NotApp” ad from Polyserve?)
“Customers’ needs, especially large, skilled customers, are clearly now at a stage where they need solutions that go beyond the scale of one or two boxes,” declares Rich Clifton, vice president and general manager for NetApp’s enterprise datacenter and applications business unit. “But they also need no compromise in the simplicity of management and the simplicity of deployment.”
NetApp’s forthcoming product, code-named GX, will be a new solution based on those criteria, according to Clifton.
“GX is a breakthrough architecture able to assemble a set of storage devices and allowing customers to treat them as one,” Clifton explains. “This is a system designed to be very scalable to very high node counts and very high IOPS [I/O operations per second].”
If NetApp can deliver on its promises, the release of GX, or whatever will be the official name of that product line, could mark the beginning of a new era — one in which clustered NAS solutions are not just a class of sophisticated toys for scientists and researchers but a commonplace enterprise tool. If the expected mass increase in unstructured data is any indication, many companies are likely to add next-generation NAS to their toolboxes in the coming years.