One of the chief drawbacks to network-attached storage (NAS) is scalability. As server architectures continue to grow in scale, traditional NAS hardware has been largely static.
Over time, that means too many users making too many requests and overloading both the NAS system's I/O and storage capabilities.
Enter the notion of clustered NAS. Here we have a distributed file system running across multiple servers that is capable of striping data across any number of nodes, spreading both access and capacity across a broader set of resources.
It's no wonder, then, that most of the NAS-related development of late has gone toward clustered, or scale-out, systems, to the point where we're seeing a veritable flood of new file-based storage solutions.
IBM took the wrappings off of its new Scale-Out Network Attached Storage (SONAS) system this week, essentially packaging its General Parallel File Systems (GPFS), Systems Software and NAS hardware into a 4-16u appliance that can deliver anywhere from 27 to 480 TB. The company hopes to convince enterprises that by consolidating multiple filers into a single file system, and then backing it up with integrated management, provisioning, data protection and ILM, they gain access to a potentially worldwide, cloud-ready storage pool capable of topping out at 14.4 PB.
Capacity is one thing, but without a robust I/O architecture, clustered architectures merely represent vast quantities of untouchable storage. That's why Isilon has turned up the IOPS factor on its S- and X-Series of scale-out NAS systems through the addition of solid-state drives. The new 5000S-SSD, 10000X-SSD and 32000X-SSD systems are optimized for metadata-intensive namespace operations, covering everything from server virtualization and financial analysis to standard NAS applications like home directories. The company says its sees an eight-fold improvement in latency and double the IOPS with the SSDs, even as it keeps costs down by using traditional SAS or SATA drives for standard application data.
Dell is also looking to get in on the action, signaling its intent to purchase the ExaStore system and other technologies from defunct Israeli firm Exanet. Exastore would provide a Linux-based clustered NAS solution to Dell's data center portfolio. Exastore is an all-software solution, so it's unclear exactly how Dell would integrate it into its existing storage lineup, which primarily consists of Ethernet-based systems from the former EqualLogic.
At the same time, clustered NAS solutions are showing up on the cloud. Startup Nasuni just unveiled its Nasuni Filer, a virtual NAS file server for the VMware platform that allows users to tap into the company's Storage-as-a-Service offering for unlimited capacity for nearline storage applications. The Filer, currently in beta, provides advanced caching, snapshot and deduplication functions, and supports Windows CIFS Shares, ACL and Active Directory.
It's no surprise that NAS is following the same trajectory that the storage industry in general is on: bigger, better, faster, more. What would be surprising is that, in the era of virtually unlimited scalability, more organizations don't pursue a more aggressive approach to file-based storage.