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Enhanced network-attached storage (NAS) data backup services

Network-attached storage (NAS) has grown up. Businesses are benefiting from its enhanced functionality -- but they're also struggling to manage it all. This tip outlines NAS services you should be offering.

Chris Evans
Network-attached storage (NAS) has, until recently, played a limited role in the data center storage strategy. The product has now matured into a more complex beast, providing not only file-serving services but a wide range of additional features and functionality that encroach on to more traditional disk storage subsystems. For VARs and system integrators, this presents an unprecedented opportunity to push NAS technology into the wider storage strategy. Here are a number of areas which should be evaluated and included into service offerings:

1. Network-attached storage virtualization support

Virtualization occurs at many points within the storage hierarchy. At the client side, deployment of global namespace technology has enabled the virtualization of multiple heterogeneous NAS resources under a single unified file system structure. This provides tremendous benefit in managing capacity, performance and technology replacements and upgrades as the user has no knowledge of the underlying physical location or virtual file system mapping.

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File system virtualization, as it is also known, has been adopted by the major vendors, including Netapp with its Virtual File Manager), EMC with its purchase of Rainfinity, and Brocade with StorageX (acquired from the purchase of Nuview). There are also smaller contenders, including Acopia and Neopath Networks. VARs should consider offering global namespace technology as part of their portfolio.

In addition to client side, virtualization also occurs at the back-end disk. This converts NAS products into gateways, enabling customers to utilize existing storage resources and export them as NAS devices. For example, Netapp offer the v-series of products which use HDS, IBM or HP storage as the underlying physical storage media. HDS provide a NAS blade that integrates directly with their enterprise products. NAS gateways enable customers to unify their storage products and simplify storage management and maintenance. They also permit more flexible growth and can form a key component in a data center storage strategy.

2. Multi-protocol support on network-attached storage

NAS is by definition a file-based product, providing file services across NFS and CIFS protocols. Many NAS vendors are now offering support for storage area networks (SANs) via Fibre Channel, and iSCSI via IP, creating hybrid storage devices. This has a number of benefits.

First SAN hosts can benefit from block-level snapshots applied to SAN disks. This offers better backup performance and, with suitable product integration, can shrink backup windows dramatically. It also enables disk-to-disk backups to be implemented at the block level with deduplication built in. With VMware emerging as a major part of the data center platform, iSCSI is placed perfectly to meet the requirements of a virtualized environment. VMware VI3 will provide enhanced support for iSCSI. VARs should have a clear position on their NAS product integration with respect to VMware and iSCSI support.

3. Network-attached storage enhanced backup support

A key benefit of NAS is being able to offer block-level tracking of data changes, especially via snapshot technology. Using snapshots for incremental backup can greatly reduce the volume of storage needed for backup today. Many vendors offer disk-to-disk-to tape (D2D2T) functionality with integration directly into standard backup products to provide a "single pane of glass" management view of backups. For example, Symantec Netbackup 6.0 can manage Netapp snapshots taken to secondary Nearstore storage. VARs should look at the integration of their backup solutions and how the can be leveraged to manage NAS snapshots and disk-based backups.

There's no doubt NAS popularity is on the rise. VARs and system integrators should take the opportunity now and ensure they can offer produces and services to meet requirements.

About the author: Chris M. Evans is an independent storage consultant with Brookend Ltd., with nearly 20 years' experience in a wide range of storage platforms covering mainframe, open systems and Windows. Chris specializes in network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN) technologies, designing and implementing large-scale infrastructure projects for major financial corporations. Online, Chris maintains www.storagewiki.com; you can catch up with him on his blog at www.storagegurus.com.


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