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Their system was, and I think still is, a PC with an Intel CPU. They use a home-grown operating system instead of Win9x or Unix, and attach lots of disk drives. Others machines on the network access the data on them using the standard NFS (network file system) protocol.

Alan, you are sorta right, but the strength of NTAP lies in the details.
1) NTAP's OS, ONTAP, is unique in this market space. It is designed to do one thing--serve data. All of the unnecessary overhead (system and sys admin) of a general purpose OS is eliminated.
2) NTAP's platform architecture includes Alpha CPUs. In the past, both Alpha and Intel CPUs have been used. It is very easy for NTAP to port to new CPUs.
3) NTAP has a proprietary, patented file layout called Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL). I won't bore you with the details, but this file layout affords a much faster read/write speed and uses RAID 4. WAFL provides as a consequence of its design the ability to perform SNAPSHOTS which capture the entire file system at points in time, require only a second or two to create and cause very little (<20% storage overhead).
4) NTAP's use of non-volatile RAM (NVRAM) is unique and guarantees that no writes are lost even during a catastrophic failure.
5) NTAP's clustering architecture provides fully functioning, but redundant soft fail over for near 100% availability.

There is a whole hell of a lot more to tell you, but I won't waste your time here. If you are really interested in what makes NTAP the rule maker and perhaps the Gorilla of network attached storage (NAS) you may wish to read these posts on SI:

Anyone with a Unix server and a bunch of disk drives can create a comparable solution. It is quite simple with an HP, DEC, Compaq, or Sun machine. You may even be able to do it with a PC running Linux. What would happen to NTAP if Microsoft decided to market large disk farms with Windows 2000?

You may not realize that NTAP supports concurrent, secure access to any file from both NFS and Windows clients/servers. They have mapped the security systems such that the security of the file is virtually identical regardless of the protocol being used to access it.

Your assertion that "anyone...can create a comparable solution" makes sense until you understand the innovations that NTAP has designed and patented in file serving, security, reliability and sys admin. It just ain't that simple.

I do not expect anyone to be able to meet NTAP's price/performance benchmark anytime soon.

jerryn (aka "DownSouth" on SI)

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