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NetApp Adds Support For Several Vendors' iSCSI Initiators

Network Appliance adds support for several vendors' iSCSI initiators, letting customers test iSCSI on NetApp systems at no cost
After a decade of doing so, Network Appliance Inc. moves and stores files better than any vendor. The one long shadow hanging over NetApp is a gaggle of powerful competitors. Microsoft will lead the assault with a Windows-based file system. As heavyweight system vendors Dell, EMC, HP and IBM bring network-attached storage OSes to market, NetApp must continuously innovate.

The vendor tried to get out in front of iSCSI, an emerging protocol that converts blocks of data into a form that won't choke IP networks. NetApp said Monday it will support iSCSI initiators from Novell and Linux by Red Hat or SUSE, as well as Microsoft's Windows version. Customers with the right version of the software will now be able to test iSCSI out for free on NetApp systems. NetApp is also making it easier for customers with these operating systems to consolidate storage resources and take advantage of NetApp systems in their native software environments.

"It's becoming risky not to look at iSCSI because of the cost advantages of moving [direct-attached storage] to a storage network," said Rich Clifton, vice president of SAN/iSAN business at NetApp. "We just want to add value to customers in the form they want the delivery, and iSCSI is just another protocol to us."

NetApp already supports Windows' Common Internet File System (CIFS), Network File System (NFS), Fibre Channel and SCSI. It's also not just a file system vendor anymore, as it supports both files and blocks of data in systems including its FAS900, F825, and NearStore storage systems.

"We're interested in iSCSI for long-term compatibility with Microsoft's new initiatives as they seem to be interested in de-supporting CIFS connectivity for all server-side processing," said Ambrose Earle, CIO at food distributor Shamrock Food Co.

Earle oversees two Tbytes of production data, including Oracle and SQL Server databases, uses NetApp's SnapMirror for data replication, and sticks to the single platform for total-cost-of-ownership reasons. "The performance was not, and still may not, be there with those Windows NAS appliances," he says. "We believe that NetApp maintains a lead over their competitors and their focus should maintain this lead."

Architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is in the process of standardizing on NetApp as part of its new business continuity infrastructure that it hopes to complete by year end.

A NearStore R100 system is up and running in Lyle, Ill., and receiving mirrored information from SOM's main offices in London, New York, and San Francisco. During the 9/11 tragedy, SOM couldn't get information from its Wall Street office for two weeks. That gave CIO Henry King the opportunity to create the new infrastructure. "If there had been another accident we would have lost a great deal of chargeable time," he said. "For any reason, lost or unavailable information is a potential significant loss of revenue to us."

In addition to the untold money saved from business continuity, King expects to eventually save $100,000 per year maintaining the NetApp infrastructure instead of direct-attached storage (DAS) from Dell. Tim Hall, director of platforms at SOM, is overseeing the connection of many remote offices to the new storage network and business continuity infrastructure. He wouldn't think about putting such an infrastructure on Windows. "With Windows systems," said Hall, "I reboot at least once a month, we run around installing hundreds of patches, and there are too many viruses."

An industry analyst said NetApp competes for mid-range storage applications, and feels no impact from low-end Windows NAS systems. "Network Appliance is doing just fine," said Roger Cox at Gartner. "I don't see EMC's ability to penetrate the midrange market because it doesn't have coverage with the channel."

The most direct competitor to NetApp is still Microsoft, however, with its 2.0 version of Windows NAS, and the rollout of Windows 2003. Claude Lorenson, a product manager for NAS at Microsoft, said its system can store 256 Tbytes of data and up to four billion files. "Customers should want the Windows NAS systems for full integration with Active Directory, Distributed File System support for file consolidation, and backup and security integration between Windows 2003 servers and NAS systems," said Lorenson. "NetApp is the competition for file serving."