IBM brings storage networks together

IBM has launched a network-attached storage gateway that lets machines on an Ethernet network connect to a SAN.

IBM has launched a network-attached storage gateway that lets machines on an Ethernet network connect to a SAN

IBM on Tuesday announced a new device for linking storage networks, saying the product offers greater performance and compatibility with other companies' storage gear.

The product, called a network-attached storage (NAS) gateway, enables machines on an Ethernet network to connect to a storage-area network (SAN) for file serving and sharing. NAS gateways, also made by IBM competitors such as EMC and Network Appliance, are part of a broader trend of merging networked storage methods for improved efficiency and lower costs.

IBM's new NAS Gateway 500 differs from Big Blue's current NAS Gateway 300 product; it uses IBM software, rather than a Microsoft operating system, as well as a higher-performance processor. The NAS Gateway 500 is expected to be available on 6 February, with prices starting at US$60,000. IBM said it will stop selling its NAS Gateway 300 at the end of March.

John McArthur, an analyst at research firm IDC, said the changes result in a higher-end product appropriate for data centres at midsize and larger companies. "It fits well with the customer segment [that IBM is] serving," he said.

NAS gateways are a way of bridging the worlds of NAS and SAN. SANs are specialised networks composed of disk arrays and switches. They are speedy and hold plenty of data -- but can be expensive and result in cumbersome file sharing.

Traditional NAS boxes are dedicated computers that serve up files over common Ethernet networks. They are generally simpler to manage than SANs but provide less performance and can top out on capacity.

NAS gateways, which lack their own disks, can allow companies to tap into unused capacity on a SAN. They also can lead to lower management costs by cutting down on the number of NAS boxes throughout an organisation.

NAS gateways are growing in popularity. Worldwide revenue for NAS gateway products jumped 27 percent last year to US$84m, according to market research firm Gartner. Gartner expects annual NAS gateway revenue to grow 27 percent from 2002 to 2007, reaching US$215m in 2007.

IBM said NAS Gateway 500 can work in conjunction with the storage gear of other companies, thanks to optional software called SAN Volume Controller. SAN Volume Controller "virtualises" storage devices by pooling them so that they can be used more effectively. The software supports storage equipment from Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Data Systems. IBM plans to extend the support to other products in the future.

SAN Volume Controller does not work with IBM's NAS Gateway 300, which supports only IBM storage equipment.