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Most companies are moving away from the direct attached storage models, where information is kept on a storage unit and can only be accessed by a few servers. Advances in networking technologies have made it possible to open up data sitting on storage boxes to a much wider number of servers and users, typically through storage area network (SAN) or network attached storage (NAS) environments.
Network Appliance has centred its storage offerings on NAS products that can operate on other networks, such as existing Ethernet-based networks. Yahoo has adopted Network Appliance products almost exclusively and manages its entire 550Tbytes of storage around the world with just 12 people, said Dan Warmenhoven, chief executive officer of Network Appliance, in a recent interview.
Network Appliance has upgraded one of the key pieces of software allowing companies to centrally manage storage, by releasing version 1.1 of its DataFabric Manager software. With this release, the company has added support for Sun Microsystems Solaris 2.8 Unix operating system. The product will be available in October.
The company also introduced its first multiprocessor storage appliances designed to work with large databases or complex corporate applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. The F880 can handle up to 6Tbytes of data, and the F880c can scale up to 12Tbytes. As the company upgrades other parts of its software line it expects the larger unit to be able to manage 18Tbytes of data. The products start at $135,000 (£92,000).
Network Appliance has also added tools to its NetCache software, making the new version of the product available this quarter. The NetCache 5.2 software helps companies make content such as streaming media more easily available to the end user by caching the information on storage units near the user instead of always feeding the data from a central point. If a user in Australia, for example, pulled a corporate training video from a server in the US, other Australian workers could access the content from a caching appliance close by instead of from the server in the US, improving transfer speeds and lowering bandwidth costs for the company.
Support for Apple's QuickTime media has also been added to NetCache, which already supports Microsoft Windows Media and RealMedia from RealNetworks. A Global Request Manager (GRM) option should help direct content so that the end user always receives cached content from the closest available hardware.
Network Appliance said its SnapManager software would be available for Microsoft Exchange 2000 by the fourth quarter, starting at $4,000. The SnapManager product automates data back-up, storage and recovery tasks.
With the release of its new hardware in particular, Network Appliance hopes to cast off its image as a provider of small storage units able to handle only a couple of specific tasks.
"We have an image in the marketplace that is mostly a historical legacy," Warmenhoven said. "Some people have this notion that an appliance is small. Sure, it was not that long ago that the largest system we sold was 1.5Tbytes, but these days we scale up to 18Tbytes."
Warmenhoven also shrugged off talk about traditional server vendors creeping into the storage space. Companies such as Sun Microsystems will try to keep the bond between its storage products and servers tight and will remain hesitant to provide broad support for hardware from other vendors, he said.
By fitting into existing Internet Protocol networks and supporting a variety of operating systems and hardware, Network Appliance claims it can capture a larger share of the storage market moving forward.