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Distributed File Systems Move to Enterprise Storage Market's Center Stage

Network Appliance’s acquisition of Spinnaker is the precursor to the mainstream adoption of distributed file systems in 2004 and 2005 as an alternative to single-file system architectures.At first glance, Network Appliance’s planned acquisition of privately held NAS vendor Spinnaker Networks may seem like any other acquisition in the storage market.
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Written by Jamie Gruener on

Network Appliance’s acquisition of Spinnaker is the precursor to the mainstream adoption of distributed file systems in 2004 and 2005 as an alternative to single-file system architectures.

At first glance, Network Appliance’s planned acquisition of privately held NAS vendor Spinnaker Networks may seem like any other acquisition in the storage market. However, this particular acquisition stands out because it validates distributed file systems as an increasingly important technology architecture and enterprise storage market segment.

The acquisition of Spinnaker Networks is the precursor to the mainstream adoption of distributed file systems in 2004 and 2005 as an alternative to single-file system architectures commonly used in NAS today. Recent industry trends point to the increasing need for distributed file systems. Customers traditionally have had to grapple with islands of storage that limit the storage administrators’ ability to manage across multiple NAS platforms.

In addition, the storage management gap between the growth of files and the decline of dedicated storage personnel has increased the need for better management. To top this, the growing regulatory compliance requirements evolving in many industry verticals mean enterprise customers now are evaluating information management strategies in support of data retention programs.

Spinnaker Networks’ product set includes enterprise NAS systems and gateways that leverage a distributed file system. This is unlike much of the NAS market today that relies on traditional single-platform, single-file system architectures to serve up files to many clients. Spinnaker Networks’ storage systems are building blocks connected over IP networks that share a common file system that grows in synch with performance and capacity requirements.

A key advantage of distributed file systems is the use of a global namespace, which allows storage administrators to manage logical NAS systems as a single pool of storage. A common problem customers have faced is the inability to manage multiple NAS systems from a single point in the network and to establish a common pool of files that could be accessed simultaneously by multiple clients. Key management issues include how files are accessed, how many copies of the file exist within the data center, and policies for managing files across the entire environment instead of one platform.

Trend Impact
The growing emphasis enterprise customers place on storage management has reached a new height. Vendors such as Network Appliance have preemptively acted with the adoption of technologies such as distributed file systems. Related technologies include industry-standard, modular storage servers as building blocks to scaling performance and availability within the storage environment. A third technology is Linux as a platform for storage and servers. Last, the need to retain data more effectively means customers must have storage management tools that can easily handle various elements of the data life cycle—what the Yankee Group refers to as the information management market. Network Appliance foresees these combined elements will contribute to the evolution of the storage grid, with distributed file systems playing a central role by enabling an access point for data wherever it resides on the network.

Spinnaker Networks was one of the first vendors to deliver distributed NAS systems to market in 2002. A number of competitors followed with similar platforms in 2003 such as Panasas and Isilon Systems, which focus on vertical segments and have very different go-to-market strategies.

Spinnaker was first to ship commercial product that met core enterprise requirements. The acquisition validates the position of Isilon Systems and Panasas, but also increases the pressure on these companies to accelerate their software innovation, customer acceptance and increased visibility as possible acquisition targets.

Although IBM Corp. and EMC have developed their own shared file systems, neither has what the Yankee Group classifies as a distributed file system. EMC’s HighRoad file system has been focused as a management platform for the company’s Celerra platform. In October 2003, IBM released its newest SAN file system, which is meant to provide a shared file pool on SAN environments. IBM plans to add additional management features in future versions of this architecture.

Network Appliance plans to leverage the distributed file system well beyond the bounds of the traditional NAS market, including in clusters and management in the broader SAN market.

Vendor Recommendations

  • Network Appliance needs to capitalize on this acquisition quickly and distance itself from the storage system vendor pack. This means integrating Spinnaker’s distributed file system technology by mid-2004 as part of its planned storage grid strategy.
  • Other major storage system competitors need to respond with their own strategies in this market. Having a common management strategy across multiple NAS systems has rapidly become an enterprise requirement, a feature that largely has not been addressed by any of the storage vendors. EMC, HP, IBM and Sun Microsystems need to articulate their own strategies.
Enterprise Recommendations
  • Educate yourself on this new generation of storage technologies. Understanding how one can leverage distributed file systems and global namespaces will be important. Adopting these technologies could offer a competitive advantage and ease some of the storage management and storage operations pain.
  • Evaluate vendors based on their ability to deal with islands of NAS effectively. Throwing more NAS boxes at the problem created the existing management problem. Storage vendors must identify ways to ease the pain with better storage management strategies. The Yankee Group originally published this article on 30 December 2003.



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