Will the rise of VMware virtual servers require changes to NAS products in order for them to work with virtual servers better?
Absolutely. One upcoming trend is for storage vendors to offer provisioning of storage and virtual servers in one step, through APIs. However, we believe that this is not a complete answer since virtualised infrastructure requires high performance and capacity scalability that are impossible to reach with standard NAS architectures. The future of NAS is the same as servers - in virtualised clusters.
Do NAS resources have to be provisioned to virtual servers in a similar kind of way to SAN resources?
No. The beauty of NAS is its simplicity in provisioning. In VMWare, for example, allocating an NFS datastore is a two-step process – exporting the NAS and creating the datastore. SAN requires LUN mapping which is easy when there is a minimal set of LUNs, but its complexity grows with the environment. In NAS the process stays the same, and in a virtualised NAS solution such as Exanet's ExaStore there are no capacity limits – so a single datastore could hold an entire virtual environment.
Are you seeing unified storage systems, comprising of NAS and IP SAN, becoming an interest to your customers?
Yes. As a business we have decided to focus initially on the NAS market but as we grow we expect to expand our offerings as well. In fact, our core technologies are very suitable for IP SAN requirements – high availability, network load balancing and random I/O performance among them.
Will Exanet produce combined NAS and IP SAN systems?
This is on our roadmap, yes.
With HDS buying an interest in BlueArc, both EMC and NetApp having NAS systems, HP and IBM selling NAS systems, how will independent NAS suppliers prosper?
This is a very interesting question. We are actually seeing an increased demand for what we call "open storage". The storage market, and especially the networked storage segment, has been plagued for years with vendor lock-in business models: storage software and controller and disk subsystems all supplied by the same vendor. Technological advancements are not always key in the development cycles. But more than ever customers are demanding solutions which can adapt to their changing business, and have to realise that the storage business model of the past forces them into a storage lifecycle that does not match their own business.
How is Exanet positioned versus Acopia, Ibrix and Isilon?
Exanet is complementary to Acopia’s file virtualisation solutions and has signed up as an alliance partner. Ibrix has a clustered file system that is lacking enterprise features such as virtual volumes, user-accessible snapshots and instant volume recovery. We therefore do not see them as direct competition to our offering.
Isilon is a NAS player we face in niche markets such as digital media. Since we provide general-purpose NAS solutions we answer a much wider range of customer requirements. Exanet’s solution provides high performance random access and is tuned to support small files as well. We provide enterprise NAS features, such as quotas, virtual volumes and instant volume recovery, and our configurations offer a much lower TCO since we support an open choice of industry standard hardware, instead of locking you down to a particular hardware.
What do you think of Sun's hybrid server/NAS product, the X4500 (Thumper)?
While the X4500 is an interesting product, which combines a server with a high-density storage array in the same package, it is basically a legacy NAS product focused on the lower end of the market. Customers that are looking for scalability, high performance and simplicity will not find it in the X4500. Capacity is limited to 24TB, the customer is locked to Sun hardware, it uses a general purpose OS and it is not easy to implement or administer.
How is Exanet responding to the increased interest in green issues amongst customers?
Exanet as a software-based NAS solution enables improved hardware utilisation when compared to existing solutions. We have recently conducted an internal study and found that we can save up to 60 percent in power and cooling costs.
Exanet is able to provide this kind of efficiency by:
• Enabling NAS consolidation – allowing the replacement of dozens of standard file servers or NAS boxes with a single cluster
• Best hardware utilisation – The Exanet file system is optimised to leverage CPU and memory resources and provides twice the NAS performance per-CPU, per-memory and per-node when compared with hardware-based appliance solutions.
• Utilising the latest hardware – Exanet leverages the latest server and storage technologies to reduce power and cooling requirements. We have calculated that it takes between 12 and 18 months for a typical hardware-based NAS vendor to come out with a product that includes a new CPU, whereas for Exanet it is a matter of weeks. The latest Intel dual and quad core announcements were a proof of that conclusion. We had dual core NAS solutions in production long before the hardware NAS vendors were there.
• Supporting high-density RAID solutions – Since Exanet offers an open storage solution, it supports new RAID technologies such as MAID. One of these vendors is Nexsan, which we have added to our partner list in 2006, and we are in discussions with other players in this space.
Does thin provisioning have a place in Exanet's product line?
Definitely. Exanet’s ExaStore was the first true clustered file system product to support virtual volumes. Disk space is allocated dynamically, without interruption to service, and capacity is provisioned on-demand, as needed. While other NAS solutions offer virtual capacity allocation, the hard limit of 16TB per filesystem make these offerings problematic when it comes to enterprise-class thin provisioning requirements.
Is de-duplication technology of interest to Exanet?
Until now de-duplication is a technology that was used mainly for disk-to-disk backup rather than for primary storage. One has to take a look at the bigger picture to understand whether data de-duplication makes sense for primary storage. The underlying NAS solution has to transform the economics of storage dramatically and so far Exanet has done so through its virtualisation and open choice of hardware. If the economics of de-duplication in terms of price/performance improve we may choose to support it in the future.
Is encryption technology of interest to Exanet?
Exanet has taken a look at the issue of storage encryption. The market around encryption at the file level has been in a state of flux in our opinion. Customers have stayed away from proprietary solutions, and many application vendors, mainly in the data protection and archiving space have introduced encryption features.
For Exanet, it is not a question of interest, but rather of product focus. Exanet has set to itself a clear mission – to transform the economics of storage. While NAS encryption has a future, it is regarded by many customers as a secondary requirement when compared to lower TCO, high performance, scalability and disaster recovery.