ATLANTA — Storage vendors are touting the advantages of storage-area networks and network-attached storage, but one user says the economic slowdown is making IT managers think twice about NAS and SANs.

John Roy, an equity analyst with Merrill-Lynch, said IT departments are taking a more careful look at their budgets, and many are waiting for the price of enterprise storage products to drop.

“SAN is new. Anything new and I ask, ‘Why should I take the risk?’” Roy said.

Roy made his comments Wednesday during a panel discussion at Networld + Interop (N + I), held at the Georgia World Congress Center. The discussion followed a keynote address by Daniel Warmenhoven, chief executive officer of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Network Appliance Inc.

Warmenhoven said a few years ago, CIOs weren’t as conscious about the total cost of ownership (TCO) of products. Their main concern was buying reliable products.

But now, Warmenhoven rarely runs into a CIO whose first priority isn’t return on investment.

Network Appliance announced three products at the show. The NetApp F880 and F880c are multiprocessor appliances designed for corporate directory consolidation, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and large databases. The F880 is scalable to 9 TB while the F880c is scalable to 18 TB.

The vendor also introduced a version 1.1 of its enterprise data storage management tool, NetApp Data Fabric Manager, which supports Unix and Sun Solaris 8.8.

Warmenhoven said Data Fabric Manager can find devices on a network and get information about them.

He added network and storage are becoming “inseparable” because data is only valuable if a corporation can distribute it to its users.

“The key issue is getting at it,” he said. “Storage is just a commodity. It’s the stuff inside that matters. The challenge is bringing it to the right place at the right time.”

As a result, organizations are starting to distribute information to users rather than keeping it in a data center.

Other storage products featured at N + I include Netreon Inc.’s SAN Exec, a tool designed to configure SANs in a Windows 2000 environment.

This year’s N + I wasn’t as crowded as similar trade shows have been in the past.

The show wrapped up early Tuesday but continued Wednesday.

Several vendors, including Microsoft Corp., abandoned their booths and left a skeleton staff.

Warmenhoven said he was involved in discussions with show organizers Tuesday on the question of whether the event should continue.

“The consensus was to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.”

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