SMB storage gets smart. Or does it?

SMB storage gets smart. Or does it?

Summary: Time was when a network-attached storage (NAS) box was pretty much that: just storage. But those times have changed, and you can now buy a NAS that offers features that were enterprise-level not that long ago.

TOPICS: Networking

Time was when a network-attached storage (NAS) box was pretty much that: just storage. But those times have changed, and you can now buy a NAS that offers features that were enterprise-level not that long ago. But do they work properly?

As well as offering shares for Windows and Mac (CIFS and AFP) today's NAS systems can now be found offering thin provisioning, deduplication, replication and snapshotting. If you include systems such as FreeNAS, which is based on Sun's ZFS, it even offers all that for free -- although you will of course need a hardware platform if you don't already happen to have hanging around a VMware ESXi server with a couple of gigs of memory to spare.

But looking at finished products, Infortrend's EonNAS range offers deduplication, a rare feature in SMB-level products, while Synology and Drobo allow you to use the extra capacity of disks larger than the smallest in a RAID array.

One thing to watch out for though, when considering whether deduping is worthwhile in a production environment, as opposed to backup where it clearly makes sense, is the potential performance impact. The way in-line deduping works is by grabbing a chunk of incoming data, hashing to produce a value and comparing that to previous chunks. If there's a match, don't store it, store a pointer instead.

This is fine when backing up as, in the normal run of things, you don't actually care how long a backup takes as long as it's done by the time people come into work the next day. So an extra few minutes are neither here or there.

When working on production data however, you do care, as time taken to dedupe is perceived as sluggishness and latency. I know of one example where just this happened, prompting the vendor in question to rewrite its deduping engine.

And since hash tables are usually held in RAM, the solution in many cases is to add more: a lot more. But a better one is write a smarter hash table algorithm, so that the most likely hits don't need to be searched for on disk but out of RAM. Or even SSD, if there's one fitted. There's more about this topic here if you're interested.

Topic: Networking

Manek Dubash

About Manek Dubash

Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger.

As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites.

I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceovers, event moderation, you name it...

Back story
An IT journalist for 25+ years, I worked for Ziff-Davis UK for almost 10 years on PC Magazine, reaching editor-in-chief. Before that, I worked for a number of other business & technology publications and was published in national and international titles.

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  • Great article! Storage Solutions is frequently a hot topic in the IT world and like you said times have definitely changed. Mosaic Technology has continued to develop ways to better serve clients through virtualization and storage. You can read our case studies here, for more information.

    Mosaic Technology
  • Manek,
    You are hitting on very important issues with dedupe applications beyond backup. As you highlight, any meaningful impact to performance on primary storage solutions simply isn’t tolerable. We have developed, over the course of the last decade, deduplication technology that delivers performance at scale with resource efficiency and I bet we’re talking to the vendor you highlight that’s rewriting theirs. We are the only vendor in the industry that offers this as an OEM offering and we’re speaking with many SMB storage vendors, along with flash/SSD, backup, cloud, and enterprise storage providers. For more detail see our web site
    Wayne Salpietro
    Permabit Technology Corp.