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The best NAS strategy: Enhance customer systems by addressing three key problems

When it comes to the best NAS (network-attached storage) strategy for customers, resellers have two opportunities: They can either enhance or replace their customers' NAS environment. In today's economy,

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enhancement is more popular.

The first step to enhancing the NAS is to identify the shortcomings of the current environment. In almost all cases, the main problem is the continuous capacity growth required to support user demands. The next shortcoming is typically subpar performance and a third may be over-consumption of power.

Containing data growth

Dealing with the never-ending growth of NAS-based data is a top concern at many data centers, and the technologies to address this growth are becoming more plentiful. To address storage at its source, you can use primary storage data deduplication technologies like those from NetApp and EMC. Unfortunately, data deduping is less effective on active storage because it has less redundant data. Compression may be a better alternative for primary storage and is offered by EMC, Storwize and Ocarina Networks (EMC's and Ocarina's compression comes by way of products that also do deduplication. Storwize is the only one that does compression-only primary storage reduction).EMC offers primary storage data reduction capabilities with its Celerra system. NetApp includes data deduplication as a feature of its Data OnTap operating system with its FAS and V-series systems.Storwize and Ocarina handle primary storage data reduction via appliances and so are easy to add to any environment to quickly provide optimization.

The next option for the best NAS growth containment is to make use of a secondary tier of storage to slow or eliminate the growth of data on primary storage. There are two main ways to do this. One way is to archive all inactive data to a secondary tier. Companies like Nexsan and Permabit have products in this space. Second, you could help customers implement a private cloud architecture to be used as a secondary tier of storage, or resell cloud storage services from an existing hosting provider.

Typically, in the secondary tier you should choose a scalable solution, potentially with compression and deduplication capabilities, and you may want it to have some retention features. Retention capabilities will allow the customer to "lock down" certain types of files. As IT staffs start to recognize and act on the need for regulation-compliant data, this will become more important.

The chief concern with secondary storage is how to get data to it and yet have it accessible to users. Most of these secondary-tier options simply appear as a network mount, so end users and IT staff could manually navigate to them. Typically, however, users and storage administrators want more seamless integration. This is where file virtualization can be an ideal add-on for NAS environments. As we describe in our article "What is File Virtualization?,"systems from companies such as F5 and AutoVirt allow for the seamless movement of files to differing tiers of storage.

Improving performance

File virtualization may also have a role to play in dealing with the next area for enhancement: performance. Assuming the customer has the right-profile I/O demands, SSD can provide significant performance improvement. To determine whether SSD makes sense in a NAS environment, you should look for a significant number of users accessing the same set of files. For example, an online retailer that has a sale on a particular product may see tens of thousands of hits to the pictures of that product. The admin can either manually move the files to the SSD, or they can use a file virtualization tool to automatically move those files based on file access parameters.

Another way to get the best NAS performance is to add advanced network cards to the NAS environment. It's important to note that this option is system-dependent and a proprietary system may not qualify. If the system will allow third-party cards, it might make sense to look at the new capabilities of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) cards that support quality-of-service (QoS) functionality. This allows the storage traffic to be prioritized within the NAS so that certain users or applications can be guaranteed more bandwidth.

Reducing power consumption

Finally, your customer may want to go green with NAS storage. To some extent the secondary tier offers a level of greenness. Typically, the secondary tier uses much higher-capacity drives, and deduplication and compression cut down on the amount of data being stored that combination should lead to fewer total mechanical drives in the system. The same holds true for using SSD instead of mechanical drives. With mechanical drives, you typically boost storage I/O by adding more drives to an array group. With SSD, because it's so fast, you might be able to eliminate those extra drives.

The other option for driving down power consumption is to use a secondary storage tier that has MAID capabilities. These systems allow you to granularly spin down the drives as they become less frequently accessed. Secondary storage is ideal for this, since it is holding older data that's no longer active.

In 2010, there is plenty of opportunity to enhance your customer's system for the best NAS environment possible. The key is to understand the shortcomings and have solutions that will allow you to address those problems.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

This was first published in January 2010

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