NetApp Gives Storage More Punch

Network Appliance's Data OnTap GX operating system lets users get the most from their storage subsystems through the use of virtualization.

After a three-month delay, Network Appliance Inc. is set to roll out a new operating system designed to let users get the most from their storage subsystems through the use of virtualization.

NetApp will introduce its Data OnTap GX operating system early next year. Built to accelerate NetApps storage grid architecture through the use of modular storage devices that can scale up to hundreds of systems, OnTap GX is the fruit of NetApps $300 million acquisition of Spinnaker Networks Inc. two years ago, said Dan Warmenhoven, CEO of NetApp, of Sunnyvale, Calif.

The first iteration of OnTap GX will be optional on NetApps high-end FAS (fabric-attached storage) systems and will be aimed at high-performance computing applications, such as semiconductor simulations, seismic modeling, and bandwidth-hungry animation and video production, said Warmenhoven.

"The [Data OnTap GX] software will provide storage architecture the ability to more easily scale out horizontally but retain the notion of a single subsystem," said Warmenhoven. "So you can build a storage infrastructure to scale as broad as your compute infrastructure. Thats what we think is the next stage in storage architecture."

Because NetApps FlexVol virtualization technology forms the data structure foundation of OnTap GX, Warmenhoven said current OnTap customers can easily migrate their systems and adopt the higher-end software when ready.

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OnTap GX will be previewed at NetApps analyst day in March.

A key component of the slimmed-down first release of Data OnTap GX is its unified namespace capability. Analogous to a Web URL naming convention and the underpinning of achieving a single system image, unified namespace resolves the names of locations—data volumes or disks—by enabling customers to migrate data from one unit to another transparently without impacting applications.

The standardized naming scheme technology exists independently of server or end-user interaction, minimizing human error and simplifying administration duties.

"We think [unified namespace] is a breakthrough capability. ... Thats really how I view were going to evolve: to provide a complete solution for all these storage infrastructure components working in conjunction," said Warmenhoven.

NetApps CEO said his companys aggressive pursuit of managing all aspects of storage infrastructure and intertwined data management services could lead to a greater focus on content, such as embedding search and indexing into the storage infrastructure.

Aside from readying OnTap GX, Warmenhoven said NetApps innovation focus next year will draw heavily on security and compliance concerns through its Decru encryption technology, as well as bringing together the results of its new VTL (virtual tape library) software from Alacritus Software. NetApp acquired both companies this year in an effort to remake itself into a storage provider offering a deeper portfolio than its NAS (network-attached storage) reputation has presented in the past.

"I think there is a structural change going on in the [storage] market where customers are preferring to buy from pure-play storage providers like ourselves and EMC [Corp.] and moving away from buying storage as part of a server configuration," said Warmenhoven. "Theyre building storage infrastructure not thinking about storage as completing the server configuration but coming at it from a totally different direction."

Along with the added capacity it brings, storage virtualization can be a boon to end users because it creates efficiency levels that cannot be reached with individual storage systems, said Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, in Milford, Mass.

"A storage grid allows you to scale and create intelligent tiers of storage and allows you to have a single level of management to address multiple needs in a [storage] environment," said Asaro. "All of these steps, what these are all leading to is a storage grid architecture being realized with real value."

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