The problems of proliferating NAS

We often hear of urban legends and always wonder if they are true or not. I would like to start a new trend and call it Storage Legends. The first Storage Legend I’d like to share with you is the one about how easy it is to manage network-attached storage (NAS) appliances.

The story begins with Chris, an IT manager who is faced with a self-proliferating storage environment (storage is cheap and everyone wanted more of their own) and no additional headcount to manage it. He hears from a friend that NAS is the way to go. ” Consolidate your users’ files onto one storage system. This gives you just one entity to manage, back up, and add more storage to, ” the friend said. This made sense to Chris. One centralized storage system would be much easier to manage and protect than many desktop systems.

So Chris went out and bought an NAS appliance. The appliance was pretty easy to get up and running. Because Chris’s team had worked out the desired configuration of the appliance prior to installing it, it only took a few minutes to bring it on-line. Then, overnight, the team added mount-points or share drives to each user’s desktops so they had access to the appliance. Once the users had access to the new storage, Chris instituted a policy that consolidated the business-critical user files to that appliance.

All was good, for a while. Instead of managing the backups and adding more storage to hundreds of desktop systems, Chris’s team, along with their other data centre duties, now had only one user data system to manage.

Time went by and the company grew. With that growth, more users required more storage space. But the users were not very careful with their storage usage (hey, storage is cheap) and before they knew it, Chris’s team, which had not experienced the same growth as the rest of the company, were managing many of these appliances.

To save money, the appliances were purchased from multiple vendors and as a result, had completely different management interfaces. Due to the amounts of data on the appliances, backups were overrunning their windows and not completing. Users began to complain about the time it took to access their files. Within a year, Chris was facing many of the same management issues as before. However, this time, the number of people influenced by outages was significantly greater.

According to EMA’s 2001, Managing Network Storage, market assessment, the top three challenges respondents face in managing their NAS appliances are:

* The lack of integration with other appliances.

* Backing up the data over the network.

* A proliferation of NAS appliances.

NAS appliances are like candies. Easy to just pop in and enjoy. However, if you’re not careful, you’ll experience a great deal of pain.

The moral of this story is: Have a management strategy for your NAS. Every time you make an NAS-related purchase, whether it’s more storage for a current NAS or more NAS appliances, be sure the purchase is aligned with your management strategy. If you are using a heterogeneous storage-management product, make sure the NAS and management software are integrated.

It’s time NAS appliance vendors start providing application program interfaces for third-party management products to tie into, just as other storage subsystems do.

Anne Skamarock is senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colorado, an analyst and market research firm focusing exclusively on enterprise management.