Servers that simultaneously handle file and block-level storage have turned the argument about which to choose on its head and opened opportunities for resellers to profit from the technology shift.
Storage area networks, or SANs, were preferred by big enterprises and government because of their speed and efficiency while network attached storage, or NASes, that store data as files were often to be found in small businesses. And although the two acronyms often confuse newcomers and customers, technology has reached a point where “it no longer needs to be a discussion around SAN or NAS”, says EMC storage manager Mark Oakey.
EMC has released its VNX storage that is configured either way, following NetApp’s lead with the FAS2000 series. “The distinction between buying a SAN and a NAS has evolved quite quickly,” says IBRS storage analyst Kevin McIsaac.
“It’s not that one is better than the other or that SAN is higher performance, it’s not really true. NetApp is leading this market and EMC is following with this new product.”
He said the question is whether a device can adapt to the many needs users put on it.
“But more importantly, how easy is it to manage and how efficiently can it manage the storage?” asks Dr McIsaac. “Those are the real things that people have been looking at and it is one of the reasons that NetApp has been so successful.”
Analyst IDC published a paper last year forecasting that by 2014 the market for unified storage would outstrip SAN storage. Cheaper, easier-to-use storage is great news for small to medium businesses or branch offices that rarely have money for a specialist.
The unification of storage has two interesting impacts on the IT channel. First, customers who stuck with the same storage (file or block) from the same vendor can more easily buy from competing vendors. And it makes it easier for resellers to sell products from other vendors.
“In the SME market what’s been called unified storage makes an awful lot of sense,” Dr McIsaac says. “It’s no longer so important what the protocol is. What’s more important are the features of the array.”
The most important feature is the terabyte cost: “This is high on people’s lists”. A better way to choose storage is to assess the useable terabyte cost, “and that’s a little more complicated”.
RAID and mirrored configurations affect available space. Dr McIsaac points to NetApp as a vendor that has done “a really good job” in efficiency by adding de- duplication that it claims cuts storage needs in half.
Snapshot backups are another feature in demand. Rather than taking a replica of the data, a snapshot is taken quickly, backed up online and later to tape. It indirectly raises productivity; a development team can test software upgrades on a snapshot of live data.
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