The reverse wars – DAS vs NAS vs SAN

It has been quite an interesting 2 decades.

In the beginning (starting in the early to mid-90s), SAN (Storage Area Network) was the dominant architecture. DAS (Direct Attached Storage) was on the wane as the channel-like throughput of Fibre Channel protocol coupled by the million-device addressing of FC obliterated parallel SCSI, which was only able to handle 16 devices and throughput up to 80 (later on 160 and 320) MB/sec.

NAS, defined by CIFS/SMB and NFS protocols – was happily chugging along the 100 Mbit/sec network, and occasionally getting sucked into the arguments about why SAN was better than NAS. I was already heavily dipped into NFS, because I was pretty much a SunOS/Solaris bigot back then.

When I joined NetApp in Malaysia in 2000, that NAS-SAN wars were going on, waiting for me. NetApp (or Network Appliance as it was known then) was trying to grow beyond its dot-com roots, into the enterprise space and guys like EMC and HDS were frequently trying to put NetApp down.

It’s a toy”  was the most common jibe I got in regular engagements until EMC suddenly decided to attack Network Appliance directly with their EMC CLARiiON IP4700. EMC guys would fondly remember this as the “NetApp killer“.

My greatest claim-to-fame was how we beat EMC IP4700 in a bake-off at Petronas Malaysia. Both companies, NetApp and EMC, were put into 2 side-by-side bake-off at the customer’s premise. EMC Malaysia, armed to the teeth with their prominent engineers from the region, and NetApp with the motley crew of moi (since I was the only engineer in Malaysia), and NetApp partners engineers.

I think we got everything set up within an hour or so. I recalled one EMC engineer asking “You’re done?” as we walked out of the room. EMC was still struggling to get the IP4700 up and running, and rumour has it, they never did on that day.

[NOTE: I am not writing this to put down EMC because I eventually worked at EMC in 2007. I think they are a great company to work for.]

That war between NAS and SAN eventually transformed into Unified Storage as NetApp jumped into SAN with the introducing of iSCSI, and subsequently Fibre Channel.

Dave Hitz, one of NetApp founders, liked to account the advice from Don Valentine, famed investor of Sequoia Capital about how NetApp turned around to embrace SAN because of something Don said. It goes something like this …“if someone wants to give you money, I’d suggest you take it“. You can read more about it from the Oral History of Dave Hitz link.

Fast forward to today, this morning, NOW. I am here at Starbucks, pissed with the commotion going on because there is a Starbucks managers meeting happening right now.

That whole dominant storage architecture thing has totally flipped. It was already slowly turning 180 a couple years ago, but it is beginning to be much more obvious now. SAN is on the decline – see news of The Register here, and other news about big guns jumping ship into direct-storage manufacturers such as Rob Peglar of EMC Isilon fame moving over to Micron Technology.

How things have changed … with DAS (Direct Attached Storage) becoming dominant to SAN. PCIe, PCIe-fabrics, NVMe, VSAN, Hyper-convergence, Server-side, Virtualization, Scale-out, in-memory and many other new and upcoming technological advancement are biting and chewing into the once-mighty SAN.

NAS is growing up too. I was pleasantly surprised how much Microsoft has committed to SMB 2.0/2.1 and 3.0. In fact, I am thoroughly impressed how they completely reworked SMB 3.0 for enterprise storage, and I have been introduced to Microsoft SOFS (Scale-out File Server) 2 months ago.

NFSv4.1 … someone better do something quickly to arrest its stagnant position. Avere Systems, whom I blogged in my previous post, is doing a wonderful job extending NFS into high performance I/O, and NAS virtualization. More importantly, Avere Systems has embraced the cloud with its CloudNAS feature but continue to preserve and extend NFS in a big, big way. Kudos to them!

It’s the weekend, and I am sharing my musings on a Friday, getting quite irritated by the Starbucks managers meeting at this establishment.

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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 30 years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because those are my areas of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to know the facts and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and between 2013-2015, I was SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently employed at iXsystems as their General Manager for Asia Pacific Japan.

4 Responses to The reverse wars – DAS vs NAS vs SAN

  1. Pingback: The reverse wars – DAS vs NAS vs SAN - Tech Field Day

  2. Johnny chong (melaka) says:

    Thanks on the article.
    An article on the pro & cons of the various storages will really make the day.

    • cfheoh says:

      Hi Johnny

      Thanks for reading my blog. There just too many storage vendors and too many variables to compare. Besides, once the comparison is made, the landscape changes again. It would be totally ineffective.

      The best method, I think, is to have a set of key criteria and measure that against the storage vendor(s) or technology you come across. See how well they rate against your customer’s requirements.

      All the best

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