Network Appliance preps for grid

Network Appliance Inc.’s purchase of Spinnaker Networks Inc. earlier this month continued a trend of storage outfits shoring up their storage virtualization strategies.

The virtualization concept is getting a push from a variety of storage vendors ranging from switch makers such as Cisco Systems Ltd., Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp., to storage hardware and software manufacturers like IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and EMC Corp.

Storage virtualization involves creating an abstract layer between storage devices and applications that access those devices.

The attraction of storage virtualization is that users aren’t tied to using specific storage devices. They can access and store data on any storage device located on a network, letting companies spread storage resources evenly across all their devices.

Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst with The Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., said the Spinnaker acquisition should benefit Network Appliance.

“It really helps them extend their lead in the high-end space,” he said. “They realize that true scale ultimately means loosely coupled clusters that act like a single thing. You can’t just keep making single things bigger and faster.”

The purchase of Spinnaker will bolster Network Appliance’s plans to offer storage grids. Storage grids would allow companies to use their storage resources more efficiently by making storage that is distributed across multiple locations appear and act as one logical storage resource.

“The combined capability of the two companies dramatically accelerates our time to market to provide the storage grid vision,” said Suresh Vasudevan, Network Appliance’s senior director of software product marketing.

Network Appliance’s storage grid strategy will work with both storage area network and network-attached storage devices.

There are two key pieces of Spinnaker technology that will boost Network Appliance’s storage grid plans, said Network Appliance co-founder Dave Hitz.

The first is called the Global Namespace, which is software that lets users talk to any storage system on a grid and allows the separate nodes on the grid to know where data across the grid resides.

The second piece, called a single system image, lets each system know about the other system on the grid and allows them to be managed as if they were one, giant system.

Fully incorporating Spinnaker’s technology into Network Appliance’s plans will take “a couple of years,” Hitz said.

The all-stock deal for Pittsburgh-based Spinnaker is worth approximately US$300 million and is expected to close in January.

Spinnaker makes storage products targeted at Fortune 1000 companies and service providers. Some of Spinnaker’s customers include Industrial Light & Magic and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Spinnaker’s expertise in storage virtualization and clustering multiple multi-node storage clusters is why Network Appliance pulled the trigger on the deal, said Network Appliance CEO Dan Warmenhoven.

Network Appliance said it plans to continue supporting Spinnaker’s products and services. The company will roll Spinnaker’s SpinServer product line into the Network Appliance family and operate Spinnaker as an engineering and development site for Network Appliance.

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