It is obvious that the boom in NAS growth is continuing. We have looked at Acopia in the initial look at the area. Then we examined BlueArc and Exanet, followed by Isilon and Montilio. Now we direct our gaze to NeoPath, Brocade's NuView and OnStor.

NeoPath Networks first popped up on Techworld's radar screen in December, 2004. It has just closed a funding round which included Cisco amongst its investors. The NeoPath product is called File Director and it provides a unified file namespace for non-disruptive storage aggregation. On top of this NeoPath can provide painless data migrations and implement intelligent storage tiering.

NeoPath has customers in the ISP, ASP, financial services, government, aerospace, and manufacturing industries markets. Like Acopia and Exanet it is on a strong growth path looking to exit Vcap-backed funding rounds, reach break-even and progress into profitability and an IPO. It's recruited Ali Zadeh to be its COO. He was VP international sales at NetApp.

Cisco's interest in a NAS virtualisation capability parallels its interest in having SAN storage virtualisation running on its SAN switches and directors. The network has an intelligent storage front-end function running in it, in the NAS case, providing network file management (NFM).

The File Director or FD-220 is software running on a 2U appliance with dual Xeon CPUs. It sits in front of heterogeneous NAS products and is the NAS resource as far as accessing servers, using NFS and CIFS protocols, know. So far, so Acopia. It is an in-band network switch. WE can see how this fits with the Cisco vision of networked storage. There is no new file system, as in the Isilon product. The existing NAS products are virtualised together and presented as virtual NAS volumes mapped to part of or one of or across the physical NAS products.

Files can be moved across physical NAS products whilst the virtual NAS volume they reside in remains the same. Accessing servers still look for, for example: G:Myfile.doc but it can be moved from a FC disk-based NAS product to a SATA disk-based second tier NAS product without the accessing server knowing.

Because of this you can increase NAS disk utilisation, have policy-based data tiering, load balance performance and increase data protection for business continuance.

Acopia works its magic using dedicated hardware and proprietary software. NeoPath does it with its proprietary software running on industry-standard hardware. Box for box the Acopia product is probably faster. NeoPath is more about NAS consolidation and management whereas Acopia is about this plus performance too.

In the Cisco network switch world it's easy to see how a NeoPath File Director blade could be inserted into a Cisco network switch.

NuView is a NAS virtualisation company that has been bought by SAN switch/director supplier Brocade. That company's Tapestry StorageX product is the NuView product. It performs NFM functions: enabling administrators to transparently add, consolidate, migrate, and automate the fail-over of heterogeneous servers and NAS appliances in geographically distributed environments without impacting end user access to data. Naturally its functions can be policy-based and it supports storage tiering. It complements Brocade's WAFS (wide area file system) product as well, a neat pairing.

StorageX runs on industry-standard Intel/AMD hardware with Windows 2000, 2003 or XP. The NuView acquisition by Brocade was an early sign that NFM supplier consolidation is going to take place.

Techworld looked at OnStor in some detail in January, 2005. It is an Isilon-like product using dedicated hardware and n-way clustering to build a virtualised pool of NAS storage.

The Bobcat 2280 provides about 36,000 ops and 300MB/sec of throughput as a single node. OnStor says it's scalable to 40,000TB of capacity and over 10,000 users. The Bobcat products are NAS gateways sitting front of heterogeneous FC drive arrays - no SATA ones yet.

OnStor is expanding fast and has announced a sales VP for continental Europe, Roland Voelskow. Why did he take up the position? “Part of the appeal that led me to join ONStor is the company’s unique offering. ONStor is the only NAS Gateway vendor to offer a solution that is both highly scalable and completely open, a combination that ensures efficiency and cost savings." Not a unique sentiment though.

What is an OnStor unique is its link with Compellent, a SAN vendor. Through this partnership with ONStor, Compellent will deliver and support the market’s first integrated SAN and NAS product. It unites the benefits of both block and file storage to deliver unlimited SAN capacity and NAS performance via a highly scalable architecture that easily expands with the addition of storage controllers, disk enclosures and NAS gateways. It can also transparently migrate data between storage tiers.

High-end NAS shakeout
NeoPath's Zadeh says: ""Data migration, intelligent storage tiering and namespace unification are the biggest challenges faced by today's medium to large businesses and enterprises. NeoPath is the only vendor that provides a complete solution that is effective, easy to implement and manage, and provides an immediate ROI."

These words could have been said by the CEO or COO of Acopia, of Exanet, of Isilon, of OnStor and other NAS growth companies. To an extent they are all responding to the same need and providing roughly, I stress roughly, equivalent product. We are heading towards a high-end NAS supplier shakeout.

Once the big boys of the NAS world, EMC and NetApp, get their virtualised and clustered NAS product acts together then we will probably see a shakeout occur, possibly with more supplier consolidation. We will also see a step change improvement in high-end NAS capability.