Firm wants to blur SAN/NAS line

As its competition begins to falter, one storage company has shifted its focus and has set plans to continue to blur the line between storage area networking and network attached storage.

Last month, Network Appliance Inc. held a conference at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. to detail those convergence plans, discuss its global market position and talk about how it plans to increase market share through its network attached storage (NAS) solutions.

NetApp CEO, Dan Warmenhoven explained that because the velocity of business has changed over the last 12 months, the company has redirected its focus from traditional technology and Internet companies, which have contributed to a loss in revenue, to five vertical markets. Warmenhoven said that by expanding its focus into financial services, major manufacturing, oil and gas, life sciences and telecommunications markets, NetApp will gain back the US$80 million it has lost by targeting tech and Internet firms. The company has also partnered with major IT giants, including Oracle and Cisco Systems, to push its solutions and services.

Warmenhoven said that it is a good time for NetApp to be redirecting its focus as its main competitor, New York-based EMC Software, has begun to lose market share. EMC recently announced a 47 per cent drop in revenue over its third quarter last year, replete with layoffs now into the thousands.

“We have been taking market share from [EMC] for a long time,” he said. “It is just a nice, continuous decline. The strategy is very simple: we provide a solution that (involves a) much lower cost of ownership. We can do everything [EMC] can do and do it better. Their architectures are old. Their systems are very complex and require an enormous amount of EMC-provided service. Ours are very simple.”

Simplicity is the driver behind NetApp’s products, agreed company founder and Executive Vice-President Dave Hitz. He explained that NetApp is focused on offering five-nines availability and reliability in all its NAS products.

“The enterprise is concerned with how they can get their data distributed around the world within the company,” Hitz said. “We are helping the enterprise build storage WANs over TCP/IP. No one wants to build separate infrastructures. We have been leveraging TCP/IP all the way.”

Both Hitz and Warmenhoven state that over the next two to three years, users will not be able to distinguish between Storage Area Networks (SANs) – which operate over fibre channel – and NAS technology. NetApp has already released Snap Manager for Exchange 2000 as a SAN/NAS hybrid.

Steve Kleiman, CTO and vice-president of NetApp, said that the company is also in the process of implementing disk access file system (DAFS) solutions, but admitted that the technology is still in its infancy. The DAFS protocol is a new file-access protocol designed to take advantage of standard memory-to-memory interconnect technologies, such as VI and InfiniBand in data centre environments.

NetApp is one of 85 members of the DAFS collaborative, and Kleiman explained that the protocol will dramatically enhance the performance, reliability and scalability of Internet, collaborative, e-commerce and database applications through a new generation of high-performance, low-latency storage networks.

IDC Canada Research analyst Alan Freedman said that NetApp has market-leading potential, although its Canadian market share is still relatively low.

“I think they have a good story to tell,” Freedman said. “It’s all about managing your data and doing it at the lowest cost possible. The fact that they have to expand into areas where they haven’t been before, like DAFS, and the fact that they are going into [block storage] (a process whereby large chunks, or blocks, of data are extracted) shows that they are in a growth stage. They are trying to appease their customers.”

Freedman added that in terms of the Canadian storage market, NetApp has a realistic view of the market.

“They are not trying to be number one right away. They are taking into account that they have to create partnerships to grow their installed base.”