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Tailoring Storage Management to Budget Requirements

By: Scott Leif,President Globalstor Data Corporation

Chatsworth, CA September 6, 2004:

The amount of corporate data continues to double every six months driven by high-performance applications including document and medical imaging, email archiving, enterprise content management, multimedia projects, graphic design, and audio/video editing and authoring.  In addition, a growing number of government regulations including Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC and HIPAA have also put pressure on organizations to take a second look at their storage management solutions. 

To manage this dynamic growth and keep their organizations at the forefront of their industry without compromising the bottom line, today’s administrators are seeking out providers that offer balanced solutions with a virtually open architecture, nearly unlimited capacity and application flexibility.  Some of the market’s latest breed of NAS (Network-Attached Storage) servers meet those requirements while offering administrators the freedom to combine RAID, CD, DVD, MO and tape libraries simultaneously, making it easy for a broader range of environments to deploy and manage advanced file storage.

Another feature that will have added weight to purchase decisions this year, is the total cost of ownership. By choosing a solution that eliminates "per-slot charges," administrators can effectively save as much as $100,00 in slot licensing and additional server fees.   

Up/Down Scalability

Like most buzzwords, "scalability" has lost its shine, but not its underlying importance.  Until recently, "scalability" was interpreted to mean: rescaling to a larger size or volume in order to meet a user need.  However, as we’ve seen since September 11th, organizations not only need solutions that will easily grow with them, but those that will also allow them to scale down when necessary as well. Without that capability, ROI (return on investment) simply goes out the window.

Information that needs to be accessible 24/7 and in real-time, is typically stored to RAID or high-speed optical libraries.  However, this high accessibility can be costly compared to storage solutions offering slower data retrieval.  For this reason, a growing number of organizations are stretching their storage dollars by migrating information resources that are less time-sensitive to less expensive (and often slower) storage solutions. This ability to change with the ebbs and flows of the industry and/or the economy, give organizations a greater competitive edge. 

Some of today’s leading NAS storage servers are equipped with up to two, completely field upgradeable expansion slots capable of boosting support to as many as 90 SCSI devices as requirements grow.  The additional slots can also be used for Fibre Channel support, gigabit Ethernet card or any combination of the two. Already in the market are NAS storage servers that not only maximize a RAID volume users base systems with 30 5TB RAID volumes, but also provides organizations support for an additional 30 SCSI devices or a dual gigabit controller in the secondary slot by simply adding a gigabit Ethernet card.  As a total solution, this allows for faster backup and restoration paired with improved data availability. 

Why NAS?

Until recently, most NAS devices were proprietary.  To provide a virtually open architecture, some manufacturers have begun utilizing embedded NTÔ.  Designed to adapt to evolving hardware and software standards, these new families of library servers can be installed in only seconds and are easily managed.  Some offer remote management and accessibility using NetMeeting or other remote administration utilities providing users with unprecedented ease-of-use, flexibility and connectivity to data storage.

NAS communicates through the ubiquitous IP protocol (Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet), so it doesn’t require the expensive host bus adapters required for SAN and Fibre Channel solutions.  This feature alone makes NAS a good solution for providing general-purpose storage services to low-end clients as well as high-performance servers.
The addition of Fibre Channel storage subsystems gives NAS systems high performance and scalability.  These enterprise-class systems are useful as content caching appliances for static content, streaming media, as well as for providing high-performance file serving.

The difference between InfinAttach and other NAS solutions is that typically, the thin-server processing unit that manages the file system and TCP/IP operations causes severe bottlenecks driving high-end databases and server clusters to choose more expensive and more complex SANs solutions for their storage needs.  To deliver files with zero latency, some NAS Servers combine a highly optimized operating system and the latest in high-performance software.

The Market for NAS Servers

To remain competitive improving their operations and productivity, organizations of all types and sizes not only need extreme amounts of information; they also require the ability to manipulate it for use in real time.  IT professionals on the other hand, scramble to accommodate the exponentially increasing data burden under the limitations of their current infrastructures and shrinking budgets. General-purpose servers, especially, require large amounts of skilled personnel time to solve storage and file access challenges.

In contrast, a NAS device requires little IT staff time or effort. Remote Management can often be accomplished through a graphical user interface (GUI) from anywhere on the network. Since the server can be pre-configured to support specific file-serving needs, administration is simplified, and this ease of use results in fewer operator errors. Also, because more capacity can be managed per administrator than is possible with general-purpose server storage activity, the total cost of ownership is lower.  As a result, organizations of all sizes can easily develop and manage their own storehouse of information including files containing combinations of text, image, video and audio.

Keeping Pace with Capacity

A key issue for rapidly growing companies is maintaining their IT infrastructures at a pace equal to the requirements of their dynamic business realities. Although some business areas may require adding on to the structure of the general server or servers, burdening these servers with escalating storage needs can be ineffective and run counter to accelerated business practices.  Simply adding capacity to a general-purpose server causes costly downtime making necessary business applications unavailable and halting productivity.
Expanding storage with a NAS solution on the other hand, can be simple and non-intrusive.  In some cases, a NAS Storage Server can be installed within 15 minutes compared to the hours or even days required to add traditional storage.  A good jukebox manager can even enable users to dynamically increase (or decrease) storage on the fly without disrupting existing data. This feature eliminates the need to add (or remove) another node on the network and also allows infrastructures to respond in real time to organization and market demands.

Incorporating the right NAS server can leverage an organization’s entire network investment and current network administration skills without costly network operating system (NOS) licenses.  Deploying a NAS server can also help IT centralization to simplify responsibilities and conserve company efforts at remote branches and satellite offices by allowing organizations to add storage in those remote offices and manage it via a GUI from anywhere on the network — including a central/home office.  As a result, IT managers can reap higher performance from existing infrastructure at the remote office and keep management "at home."

Adding Value with Added Security

At the same time as the volume of data is growing, so business dependency on this data is increasing making data security a high priority.  For this reason, the administrative function on the NAS device also needs to be secured.  Only an authorized person should have access to make changes.  Protecting the access for administration includes encrypting the passwords.

The access to a NAS device over an Ethernet network using IP is also one of the areas that in the past has been exploited for security breaches. Isolating the network through firewalls or other means can help, but to fully secure your data against outsider penetration you may want to consider hiring someone skilled specifically in network security.

Another security concern is data being altered or monitored in the individual IP packets being transmitted is also a security concern. Devices and software that can do this are readily available. Incidentally, half the security attacks come from within companies so this is a high-risk area.  Isolation is still the best plan but may not be practical.

Newer NAS Servers include Microsoft NT OS, which has plenty of built in security features that restrict access not only at the file level, but at the user level as well.  For added security, some NAS solutions do not transmit. Users access files directly as opposed to the server sending them. In this way, only those users or systems that have users rights assigned by the administrator are able to access the data.

Maintaining Data Access

Access to data, another key element, also changes and an effective solution should be able to accommodate that.  More and more businesses are investing their hard earned IT budgets into applications such as file serving and centralized management for backup and restore tasks to enhance their own productivity. 

A good NAS-based storage server can also bring great management, heterogeneous host support, and disaster recovery capabilities to environments.  IT staffs are finding that NAS is an economical solution for both meeting and incrementally adapting to storage needs.  NAS servers meet storage needs more easily and more economically than traditional hard disk drives, SAN or DAS solutions and provide zero downtime during storage upgrades.