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The future of NAS backup

As network-attached storage (NAS) technology advances with a blending of virtual tape library (VTL) and data deduplication interfaces, it becomes difficult for solution providers to determine which backup approach is best for their clients. This interview with NAS expert John Merryman will help you scope out the future of NAS backup. He has expertise in data protection, technology risk and information management and has been published in leading industry forums.

In what ways will future NAS deployments differ from today's typical NAS deployment?

As organizations move away from distributed Windows file servers, one of the biggest catalysts for traditional NAS deployments is the demand for server consolidation. Looking at companies that already have existing NAS footprints, I think this will continue to be a trend for a lot of organizations -- but there will be a couple of big things that are going to differ in the future. For instance, NAS might be leveraged as part of a backup infrastructure and as a backup target architecture. Another future difference is the inevitable data management cleanup -- deduplication is really going to become more of a necessity as data growth continues to increase. Network-attached storage definitely offers a lot of ways to simplify filer architectures. Now, you have multiple-protocol access to filer infrastructure; therefore, a lot of the platforms allow you to go with iSCSI or block. That, in addition to your traditional network file system (NFS) or serial interfaces, is going to be the major way NAS deployment will differ from three to four years ago.

What NAS vendors and products should solution providers be paying attention to going forward?

Look out for NAS devices supporting multiple protocols innate to a single device; that would include iSCSI, NFS, serial interfaces and glass Fibre Channel. For small-firm environments, storage consolidation of all block and network-attached storage plus direct-attached consolidation to iSCSI can all be done relatively easily under one roof. Enterprises that consolidate low-end and midrange users to a NAS environment have a great potential as well. Deduplication is definitely a disruptive force in the market. Another thing to really look at is duplication as a native capability within the device. This would enable you to eliminate a lot of internal data.

How are virtual tape library and data deduplication functions changing the way NAS architecture is structured?

NAS devices are being used as filers and as backup targets. When NAS devices are being used as filers, some platforms offer native deduplication and are designed around a profile so that they're not massive input/output graphers (IOGs) like VTLs. However, when NAS devices are used as backup targets, you see a lot of changed applications. It's important to recognize that a NAS device is being used as a backup target when it has deduplication abilities.

What changes in the market can be anticipated by combining NAS with VTL and data deduplication interfaces?

In my opinion, the big change is that interfaces may become a non issue. The question ultimately may become less about if you have an NFS or VTL interface and more about your preferred method of connectivity. Would you want 1 Gb or 10 Gb Ethernet? Is Fibre Channel more of a preferred method? It may boil down to the backup application and what type of I/O and channel program suit the application, but personally I think you're going to see a leveling of the playing field when it comes to interfaces.

Which deduplication method or overall integration model do you think will become the future industry standard?

VTL definitely has a lot of market share out there when it comes to being a backup target. All of your devices down the road are going to have VTL and NAS interfaces, and this just means that IP and Fibre Channel inbound connectivity is going to be an option for your average device. Also, being able to replicate data between your NAS or VTL devices is going to become more of a standard. VTL vendors are going to continue to try and package their wares for simplicity and ease of use, very much in an appliance form. That's a lot like what NAS vendors have been doing for a very long time. The VTL landscape is moving very much in the way of the NAS vendors in terms of their architecture hurdles -- simplicity of use, package appliances, rich capabilities under the hood and not a lot of customization that's required on the part of the client.

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