A ramble through my personal NAS history

Think of this post as a pre-amble to my promised SONAS post…

I guess most people have some experience with Microsoft file server technology, personally at home I use ftp for file centralization and backup, I find it simpler, but then I’m not a Windows server geek by any means. Others I know use OpenFiler, but are not necessarily very complimentary about it.

I remember the original Netware Vs LAN Manager Vs Banyan Vines debate from I guess it was the early 90’s. My experience then was that Netware 2.15 was great provided you only used it for file serving, and when folks started using 3.11 for databases it seemed to be prone to breakage.  LAN Manager was originally a joint IBM/Microsoft development which steadily improved and evolved into the file serving Windows product we know today. UNIX-based Banyan Vines was billed as the most scalable of the offerings, and included directory services, but it was gone by the end of the 90’s. LANtastic was popular with  SMB customers back then, but they have been pushed out by Microsoft’s bundled Windows networking which still somehow seems more complicated.

In the early 2000’s I dabbled again in NAS (I’m talking file I/O here, so I’m excluding block I/O over Ethernet) with IBM’s NAS300G gateway (and NAS100 and NAS200 appliances) which were really just MS Storage Servers, and they weren’t exceptional. Then came the IBM NAS500G which was an AIX system running SAMBA and although universally acknowledged to be faster and more robust than its Windows predecessor, it still didn’t offer a huge amount of value over basic file serving.

About the same time I became aware that the local Wang subsidiary was doing some very creative stuff with Netapp storage running large MS Exchange databases over NFS – something as I recall MS explicitly refused to support. NAS became a bit of an obsession for some of those guys and I watched as folks deployed SAP against NFS storage only to have to eventually cut and run to iSCSI.

Netapp had two short-lived OEM agreements around this time – Dell approx 1998-2000, and Hitachi approx 2002-2004 for the gFiler. In 2003 Netapp bought Spinnaker Networks for their scale-out NAS expertise – technology which was branded as GX by Netapp, something that is perhaps only now becoming relevant.

Meanwhile IBM was developing a product line (code-named squid?) that were Linux-based NAS systems designed to have high function rather than just basic file serving. Someone decided however that there were no prospects of taking a profitable leadership position with this approach. Rumours suggest IBM looked at buying Netapp, but my own non-expert financial opinion is that their market cap seems to always have had a built-in premium for assumed future growth, which makes them an expensive buy for the profit returned. IBM instead began with an IBM Global Services reseller agreement with Netapp and a full OEM agreement in 2005.This has been renewed once and the current agreement runs for another couple of years. This has worked for both parties in that it has got Netapp product into some large IBM accounts Netapp had been unable to penetrate, and it gave IBM an instant high function NAS product set.

But the NAS landscape has changed a lot recently.

HP bought Ibrix, and Dell has just bought Exanet. EMC delivered its Atmos product and IBM meanwhile has been honing the scale-out NAS capabilities of its in-house developed gpfs (general parallel file system) product, delivering it first as a services project called SoFS (scale out file services) and now as a much refined and productised version called SONAS.

It is into this world that I will deliver my next blog entry which will look at the structure and features of SONAS.

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