Network Appliance Inc. is following the lines of its data fabric thread vision with new solutions and the promise of four-nines of reliability from its NetApp filers.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is focusing on “business continuance” solutions with its latest announcement, including a new product family, NearStore. NearStore provides recovery and backup consolidation. It is designed to serve a new market space for business information and continuance that the company says to date has been too expensive to keep on disk. NearStore is meant to complement traditional online storage as well as tape storage.

Network Appliance has also transitioned itself away from the Alpha chip architecture with the new F87 and F810 filers. The Intel-based F810 replaces the 740 filer, said Ray Villeneuve, vice-president of strategic marketing for Network Appliance.

While managing data is top requirement for many vendors, Villeneuve said the concept of business continuance solutions has always been large focus for Network Appliance.

“Business continuance and disaster recovery and high availability have for a long time been hallmarks of what we do,” he said. “It’s certainly in vogue at the present for some fortunate and some unfortunate reasons. The message is about delivering more and more high value to enterprises.”

Something else that isn’t new for Network Appliance is providing the four-and-a-half to five nines of reliability, said Villeneuve, thanks to telecommunications, financial services and manufacturing customers with strict uptime needs. “They have required us to deliver very high availability.” To that end, Network Appliance is offering its clients service level agreements (SLAs) to give heft it to its five-nines promise.

Villeneuve said Network Appliance’s competitors can’t the types of solutions enterprise customers are looking for because of their architecture. “Those architectures require data to be consolidated at one single point in a large data centre,” he said. “There’s no notion of storing data at remote data centres or branch offices in the way we do it.

“We have a very different view of the world, and that view is that customers ideally want to centralize manage the data, but they’d ideally like to have that data as close as possible to the application servers and as close as possible to the users for maximum efficiency.”

The most important aspect about the company’s announcement is that it shows that Network Appliance is truly an enterprise player, said Alan Freedman, research director for services and storage for IDC Canada in Toronto.

“It’s something they need to emphasize,” he said, adding that the company needs to shed its image as a solutions provider for smaller companies and less critical systems.

Freedman said Network Appliance is already recognized as a leader in NAS solutions; the challenge for the company now is to convince people they can have both a NAS and SAN working together. “It’s not either or anymore,” he said. “The lines are becoming very blurry when it comes to NAS and SAN.”

Freedman said Network Appliance’s pledge of 99.99 per cent is something the company obviously feels comfortable enough with to offer SLAs, likely because the “call home” features of its NetApp filers have provided the data to support their reliability. “They’re already achieving this,” he said.

In September, Network Appliance launched several products at Network + Interop in Atlanta: the NetApp F880 and F880c, multiprocessor appliances designed for corporate directory consolidation, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and large databases; version 1.1 of its enterprise data storage management tool; NetApp Data Fabric Manager, which supports Unix and Sun Solaris 8.8; Content Director 2.0, software that can push out content from the data centre on a policy basis.

The products are part of the company’s “data fabric” vision where customers can access storage regardless of physical location.

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