Network Appliance Inc. is pushing ahead in the data storage arena by releasing a slew of new products that build on the company’s vision of being a unified storage player and that executives expect will fare well in Canada’s energy and

financial sectors.

NetApp announced the strategies with partners Cisco Systems and Veritas Software at its annual analysts’ event Tuesday in Santa Clara, Calif.

The companies’ enhanced portfolio of data protection and storage products include RAID-DP, which safeguards data from the failure of multiple disk drives, and an upgraded version of gFiler, a tool that connects network-attached storage and storage area network technologies.

A centrepiece of NetApp’s plan revolves around the storage grid, in which data back-end services are hooked up to a virtual supercomputer with custom CPUs and custom operations systems, said Dave Hitz, company founder and executive VP, engineering. “”The Spinnaker acquisition allows us to do some of that now,”” he said, referring to the November purchase of Pittsburgh’s Spinnaker Networks, a firm strong in storage grid architecture.

Brian Babineau, a research analyst with Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass., said the market is hungry for these types of solutions.

“”I have multiple choices of cars, and I want the ones that do well in snow or do well in rain,”” he said by way of analoy. “”But if I have one, I can just change the tires. It’s much easier for me to manage. I have one customer service person to contact, and I usually get better economic benefit because I’m dealing with one vendor.””

Babineau predicts it will take NetApp, which is traditionally pigeon-holed as a network-attached storage firm, between four to six months to educate channel partners and its sales force and, in turn, sell customers on the viability of the latest products.

NetApp’s focused approach has worked in the past, namely when it began its network-attached storage business and managed to come under the radar screen of competitors, he explained. “”They’ll get their relatively decent number of wins because the technology’s good.””

In Canada, NetApp plans to pursue the financial services and energy sectors and expects swift product take-up, said Rob Salmon, senior vice-president, worldwide sales.

In Toronto, three of the five major financial institutions have deployed NetApp products in a second stage in which the technology is tested on specific projects (During the first stage, a potential customer evaluates how a service provider may fit into its operation), Salmon said. “”So we’re building a real good business in Eastern Canada around financial services.””

Western Canada’s oilfields are also promising, Salmon said. Energy companies around the world are “”always looking — no matter in good times or in bad — to save money,”” a phenomenon he says he has witnessed in Calgary.

Salmon said in the future the company will grow faster outside the U.S. In fact, “”If I look back over the last, probably, nine months, I can say the Canadian business is probably one of the highlights in terms of percentage growth,”” he explained. It’s a trend Salmon largely attributed to better monitoring of customer accounts that made NetApp more aware of the problems of large enterprises and enabled it to offer solutions.

The end game for customers? Despite the costs of additional capacity (which may translate into US$500 million for a mid-sized operation, with twice the potential savings), the long-term benefit is companies have all their “”information, regardless of how it travels or what language it speaks, all on one platform,”” Babineau said.

The adoption of NetApp’s new offerings will also change life for system administrators, Babineau added. Their role may stay the same, but responsibilities may increase as they are asked to take on more revenue-generating projects and deal with other tasks.

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