Compaq has finally moved into the network attached storage (NAS) arena with the launch of its TaskSmart range. The hardware supplier claims that its TaskSmart N-Series devices, which can store from 72Gb to 1Tb of data, are targetted at installations ranging from small branch offices to corporate data centres. The rack-mounted units measure 6U (10.5 in) in height for configurations of up to 256Gb, or 15U (26.25in) for configurations of up to 1Tb.
But, unlike most vendors' NAS boxes, which are based on proprietary operating systems (OSs), the TaskSmart family runs on an embedded version of Microsoft's Windows 2000. Donal Madden, Compaq UK's storage business manager, said the OS had been optimised to handle NAS applications.
"If Compaq is going to be a major storage player, it has got to get into NAS," he attested, adding that the technology was a good "half-way house" for customers needing a reliable storage environment and a more cost-effective alternative to multi-function servers.
Although Madden believes that users will need to implement storage area networks (Sans) at the enterprise level, he said that NAS systems would still have a role to play elsewhere, for example at the departmental level. He estimated that over the next two to three years, Compaq's NAS offerings would generate between 20 and 25 per cent of the company's total storage revenues and would be a good proposition for storage resellers.
"If we weren't so juvenile in the storage market, we would have sorted out standards a long time ago. Out of this vacuum has come NAS, which is very good for customers with multiple file servers that want to consolidate and file share without having to make a major investment," Madden explained. If customers install a San at a later date, they can integrate their NAS boxes into the architecture, he added.
Ray Rice, business manager at CMS Peripherals, applauded Compaq's move despite being a Hewlett Packard distributor. He said it provided NAS with a "seal of approval" and would "drive sales for other NAS players".
But Compaq also claims that embedding Windows 2000 into the TaskSmart range will improve its performance on Windows-based networks and make it easier for customers to transition from server attached storage systems to NAS because they are already familiar with the OS. For this reason, the vendor is targetting TaskSmart primarily at the Windows NT market, although it can also run in Unix environments.
Dave Hill, research director for storage and storage management at the Aberdeen Group, said that Compaq's focus on the NT market is natural given the company's heritage, but that the choice of OS does not matter to customers. "If they build it on Windows 2000, who cares? The OS is transparent to the user. If they can optimise it, more power to them," he said.
But he added that TaskSmart's small footprint would help it to win acceptance in the data centre. "Density is an important issue for Compaq," he said. "A lot of websites are using NAS boxes in cages where there's not a lot of space."
Dave Richardson, director of strategic alliances at storage specialist Articulent, said that TaskSmart fills a hole in Compaq's product line. But while Articulent expects to sell the TaskSmart range, the company does not think it will affect NAS system sales from market leader, Network Appliances.
"Compaq fits in Compaq shops and complements the existing StorageWorks environment," he claimed. "We don't lead with any box, we just see what the customer needs. The TaskSmart will increase our revenue, but not challenge Network Appliance sales - at least not at first."
Over the last year or so, the NAS market has come under attack from the storage vendor community, which has traditionally been dominated by such specialist vendors as Network Appliances and Auspex. But over the same time period, hard disk drive suppliers, Maxtor, Quantum and Western Digital, have also bought up three independent NAS companies.
Compaq was the last major server and storage firm to hold out against the trend towards NAS, following Sun Microsystems which introduced its own offering - the N8000 - in late May.
Intel lured by SANsymphonyDataCore Software has received $35m (£23.3m) in venture capital funding, including an undisclosed sum from Intel. In May, DataCore introduced SANsymphony, an application that turns standard Windows NT file servers into San appliances.
Augie Gonzalez, director of product marketing at DataCore UK, said that SANsymphony made each vendor's storage device appear to have the same look and feel when attached to the network. "Classic storage vendors prefer to lock-in customers to one brand," he said.
He added that SANsymphony, which runs on Intel platforms, appeals to the chip giant due to its investments in its forthcoming IA64 chip architecture and the InfiniBand system bus. Intel is keen to collaborate with DataCore technically and is also hoping to make money on its investment in the company.
Ron Johnson, a partner at the Evaluator Group consulting firm, said Intel currently had its fingers in many pies. "It's technology smart," he explained, adding that, as storage becomes more important, being able to manage your San becomes critical. "DataCore has a solution that works. If Intel stuck its nose into it, it may have found three or four areas of interest."
In related news, executives at Inrange Technologies said the company has agreed to acquire Computerm.
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