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The Network Observer
NAS, SANs, Jukes, and the Revenge of Divx

David Doering

December, 2000 | My favorite movie this summer was Godzilla 2000. No, not because it was any better than any of the others (although it was a lot better than that American take, no matter how great the special effects were). I loved it because Godzilla just keeps coming back. Never mind if he died in the last film, he's back again, raring for action.

This seems to have been the theme for network storage and video content in 2000. Remember Divx? Well, its back. Okay, not the movie rental concept, but the name Divx. Recast as DivX (note the capital X), it is the popular name for the hottest new technology in digital content–MPEG-4. After years of discussion to formulate a common spec, MPEG-4 has emerged as the video counterpart to MP3 for sound files. DivX delivers high-quality images that require far less bandwidth than MPEG-2. (For example, a standard two-hour film takes 4GB on DVD/MPEG-2, only 650MB with DivX.) All of this adds up to a lot more video delivered over a lot more networks, Web included.

Over in jukebox land, it's been a marketing year with a few highlights. NSM Storage debuted their 6000 system with integrated Windows NT 4.0 server. This could prove to be a killer NAS appliance and we hope to review it in the not too distant future. Cygnet wowed the audience at NAB2000 with a prototype five-jukebox RAID configuration. With multi-megabyte throughput, it is the first serious threat to conventional tape storage we have seen. Cygnet recently lost their aggressive marketing VP to a startup, so it remains to be seen if this optical RAID system finally sees the light of day. We hope so.

Plasmon launched a full line of 12", 5.25", and CD/DVD jukeboxes as a way of offering customers exactly what they need. Plasmon feels that the high throughput demands of video might just demand a 12" solution–but the cool new colors and design of the LTO tape libraries win my vote for the "I Want One Next to My Desk" award.

Finally, a new low-end jukebox debuted this year from PowerFile. Their C200 box has two MultiRead 2 drives (CD and DVD), Mac-friendly FireWire connectivity, and 200-disc capacity. What makes this a must-have enhancement is its price–$1800. Only once before have we seen a major vendor, Sony, offer a jukebox in this price range, the similarly configured, but now departed, Sony CDL1000. Maybe Sony had the right idea at the wrong time, and the PowerFile C200 has arrived at just the right moment to make a big hit on today's storage market. After all, with all those MP3 and DivX discs we're going to generate over the next year we're all going to need jukeboxes.

The big trend this year should have been the move to SAN technology–but it wasn't. The industry remained fraught with interoperability problems, but even with viable homogenous solutions, had such a high-entry ticket price that most potential continued to shy away.

There's a very real danger that this year's other hot technology, Storage over IP, might just take the place of SANs for everyday networks. Adaptec is heavily promoting its version, EtherStorage, but there are a number of other players angling for Storage over IP business. As the number of NAS appliances grows, the versatility of Storage over IP and low-cost of appliance hardware make for a killer fibre-channel alternative.

Although their Snap Server product line saw mostly refinements since the beginning of the year (including the addition of a rackmount unit), major NAS player Quantum will likely push these even more heavily into the market now that they have sold their hard disk business to Maxtor.

In the mid-range, pioneer Procom saw the competition heat up. Connex debuted their NS3100 server with 288GB of RAID storage, which puts it squarely against the Procom NetForce 1500. Procom, however, has unveiled increasingly powerful systems, with their NetForce 2200 and 2500 being truly enterprise-ready NAS units at 2.5TB capacity.

Curiously, Connex is also trying to make a major push for its SANavigator software. This innovative Java-based console attempts to overcome one of SAN's homogeneity hangups. Rather than require similar OSs over the entire SAN, SANavigator supports multiple-platform clients for its management functions. While not a complete SAN OS like Sanergy and SAN Manager, it forms one part of an effective solution.

Of course, no discussion of optical network storage would be complete without a mention of SmartStorage. While SmartStor remains the definitive software solution for optical storage management, SmartStorage is looking forward with their InfiNet software, which creates a virtual storage environment of existing RAID, DVD, MO, and tape peripherals. Users see their data at the same hard disk location they stored it at, even while InfiNet performs migrations of data to secondary or tertiary storage devices. The key is that users can still access the data without having to remigrate it back to a hard disk as older HSM software would require.

The biggest news of all this year, however, has to be the incredible fall in PC prices. If full-screen, full-motion video is to be a staple of PC training and entertainment, today's sub-$800, 500MHz+ systems with their 128MB RAM, 20GB hard drives, and 32MB video cards are poised to deliver it to strapped admins. This bodes very well for no-fuss video editing, viewing, and storing in every office–just as low-cost laser printers and easy-to-use software made desktop publishing a reality for every user as well.

The Network ObServer columnist David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia contributing editor, is also senior analyst with TechVoice Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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