Expansion of these systems can be a challenge, so the less often they have to be expanded the better. Most of these systems for simplicity’s sake come at maximum capacity. A few others have the ability to install off the shelf hard drives into available drive bays. When more storage is needed beyond that most of these systems do not have the ability to add additional storage bays. The notion is that it’s less management to buy something up front as a complete unit which is ideal for the SMB customer. While these NAS systems are significantly more affordable than their enterprise counter-parts, additional capacity requires the SMB buy another NAS system and leverage the capacity gain and potential growth that it can supply.

In other words when capacity demands of the first system are exceeded, in most cases the only option is to add another system. While managing two or three of these NAS systems is not impossible each system adds to the management burden. Most medium sized businesses are as tight on IT staff as they are on IT budget, if not tighter. Also, buying another new NAS system is certainly more expensive than simply adding storage to an existing one.

In addition to the customer challenges, there is also a challenge for the systems builder to differentiate themselves from their competitors. While many provide significant differences in terms of quality of hardware and technical support it’s often hard for a customer to quantify that value. As a result, many customers will lump all the vendors into a generic “SMB based NAS” category and simply shop on price.

Integrated deduplication and compression could be the solution to the capacity growth challenges that these customers face as well as the key differentiator that systems builders have been searching for. Since most of these systems tend to store files from office productivity applications, they are ideal candidates for optimization of this type. While actual results will vary combining compression and deduplication on this type of data has shown to reduce capacity requirements significantly. Additionally, many customers are beginning to use the storage devices as mount points for VMware virtual server images, a highly redundant environment, in which deduplication and compression provide even greater levels of efficiency.

The typical SMB NAS systems builder is also becoming increasingly aware that more name recognized suppliers are extending their market reach into mid market and lower with recent product offerings. As that occurs they leverage their portfolio of software and feature offerings to differentiate themselves instead of having to match price points. The SMB NAS system builder needs to add capabilities to stay relevant.

The Problems With Deduplicated Add-Ons

Deduplication seems like the obvious answer for this market but the current economics of most SMB NAS products are making typical deduplication deployments impractical. Traditionally, there has been a cost disadvantage in implementing deduplication in these systems. This market is a more price-sensitive market and the cost of capacity does not have the premium that capacity from the enterprise NAS vendors do. In other words the dollar per GB does not cost as much on the SMB NAS platform, that means the dollar per GB saved is less impressive. The SMB NAS deduplication solution has to be added at a low cost and can’t require an increase in processor speed or memory, both of which would increase system cost and probably off-set the savings from deduplication.

The second problem is that most deduplication solutions in the SMB NAS market are ‘afterthoughts’, meaning they weren’t part of the original system architecture and don’t have a direct integration below the file system. Some SMB NAS vendors are considering switching file systems and even operating systems to gain that functionality. Even file systems that have added deduplication are typically performing the function as a secondary process, basically as a stand-alone application that runs external to the file system. As a result, most of these solutions run post-process, or after the data has been written to disk. This also means they’re highly inefficient at storing the metadata, something very significant in the deduplication process. Many space optimization products recommend either a separate appliance altogether or adding solid state storage to the NAS system to store the meta-data information. While vendors may be able to hide these workarounds in premium priced systems there is no margin for them in the price-competitive SMB NAS market.

The Solution - Integrated Deduplication

The solution for these vendors may be to use a high performance deduplication solution like Permabit’s Albireo Virtual Data Optimizer (VDO), which is tightly integrated with the operating system via a block device module. With it the systems builder can add value by integrating a high performance data optimization engine to their solution. This allows them to avoid the costs associated with file systems or appliances that have added deduplication via post process methods. By integrating between the file system and the physical storage blocks this deduplication technology can deliver highly efficient, real-time deduplication performance that does not impact the user experience or require cost be added to the NAS system. Finally, by using integrated deduplication, the systems builder can show clear differentiation with a more storage efficient solution that would not have to be expanded as soon, also delaying the need for additional systems.

SMB NAS systems with high performance deduplication provide great value for data centers looking for efficient storage to accommodate the bulk of their data growth. It delays the need to add capacity to existing storage systems, slows down the rate of systems growth in the data center and reduces the total systems management overhead. It may also allow the customer to delay the upgrade to a more enterprise NAS system altogether, which could be the biggest cost savings of all.

For the SMB NAS supplier the ability to deploy a full featured deduplication solution on their NAS systems will enable them to more effectively compete with the larger vendors entering their traditional space. Additionally, it will enable them to move up market with features that are now becoming standard fare such as deduplication.

Permabit Technology is a client of Storage Switzerland

George Crump, Senior Analyst