A Change of Thinking, NAS!

My 15 years in IT have been dominated by block storage. From EMC, HP, EqualLogic, LeftHand, and IBM the solution and feature sets have changed but the underlining technology has always been the same. Traditional block based storage via a fiber or copper medium. Recently I have begun to adjust my thinking and really look into NAS based solutions. Looking mainly at the EMC/VNX NAS offering, the capabilities are worth implementing. EMC includes the NAS when you purchase a VNX Unified. From a pricing perspective it makes sense to include it in. From a technological perspective you are missing out if you don’t include it!

Before my recent mindset change I was basically like most Engineers and Administrators. Why use NAS when I can setup a Windows File Server and share it out using technologies and administrative techniques I have used for years. We all understand share folder permissions and NTFS permissions and how to setup a proper File Tree structure. Windows does a fairly good job with this and offers additional features such as DFS single name space and replication. Why relearn an entire new way of doing the same thing? Why leverage NAS for supposed increased performance when ultimately it’s the same disk on the back end? Why reinvent the wheel?

First and foremost the industry is moving towards NAS at an accelerated pace. The "pure NAS" market continues to grow at a much faster rate (15.9%) than the overall external controller-based (ECB) block-access market (2.3%), in large part due to the expanding NAS support of growing vertical applications and virtualization. EMC grew its overall network-attached storage (NAS)/unified storage share to 47.9% (up from 41.7% in 2011). Global Industry Analysts, Inc., (GIA) expect the global market for NAS to reach US $7.0 billion by the year 2017. The trends are there. NAS is moving forward quickly and businesses are discovering the benefits quickly. Even small and medium size businesses are finding affordable NAS solutions (EMC VNXe) that can be quickly deployed and leveraged. The last 6 months at Anexinet I have personally implemented VNX and VNXe solutions for clients with the primary use being NAS. I expect even more for 2014 as EMC Isilon ramps up in the market.

From a technical side NAS has come a long way and challenged traditional block with its capabilities and straight forward deployment. NAS devices can offer performance on par with many currently installed fibre channel SANs. Because NAS devices control the file system, they offer increased flexibility when using advanced storage functionality such as snapshots. The RAID and clustering capabilities inherent to modern enterprise NAS devices offer greatly improved availability when compared with traditional direct attached storage. NAS devices typically leverage existing IP networks for connectivity, enabling companies to reduce the price of entry for access to shared storage. Deduplication, thin provisioning, automated storage management, and online expansion are all standard features now.

EMC VNX Unified has answered the above questions for me with its NAS capabilities. Yes you have to relearn a few things when it comes to initial setup and presentation of the block based disk for File System use but with Unisphere and its File based wizards this becomes an effortless task. It has the capability to leverage Windows DFS (and use its own local DFS tree) without blowing away the existing setup. Performance will be improved with NAS vs. traditional physical or Hypervisor based hosts. You have a highly specialized OS designed for one thing and one thing only, serving out File Services. Windows and other operating systems are not specifically designed for File Services and have overhead associated with it. You also gain from a management side in not having to keep the Windows OS updated, patched and scanned for Antivirus. With EMC NAS you can leverage CAVA for the Antivirus or allow the client end points to handle it. Both offer variations of snapshots and replication but SnapSure and VNX Replicator offer a level of protection not found with built in Windows VSS or DFS Replication.

EMC NAS as well as other vendors are increasing NAS offerings and slowly replacing traditional block based storage with highly flexible and easy to implement solutions. Having been a decision maker for previous companies on the client side and specifically asking to have the NAS option removed from my VNX purchase I have changed my thinking. I would never implement a VNX without the NAS side again. I am recommending to all Anexinet customers who are considering a VNX to get a Unified array and benefit from the many advantages NAS based storage has to offer.


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