Gartner defines a storage appliance as a device that “provides data to, or manages data for, other network-connected computing devices.
While storage appliances can be optimized for certain applications, the category as a whole is application-agnostic. Whether the appliance takes the form of network-attached storage (NAS), storage area network (SAN), or another storage architecture, the key idea is that a storage appliance offers files and directories or block storage to other devices across the network.
Originally, according to Sean Kinney, director of product marketing at HP, network storage was something of an architectural afterthought, extra disks that dangled from a server. As time and need progressed, these disks became arrays, and server applications evolved to make more effective use of these arrays from their general purpose hardware. From here, it was only one more step to developing specialized hardware – an appliance -- designed expressly for storage operations.
“Purpose-built appliances do one thing exceptionally well,” says HP’s Kinney. “For some customers, a general purpose device saves them money because it can do multiple applications or have multiple protocols, connecting to servers of different types. But a purpose-built appliance is for customers that need to do one thing very well. A great example is storage backup appliances. While having some general storage capabilities, a purpose-built appliance is optimized to do backup and deduplication very fast, very efficiently.”
According to IDC, the purpose-built backup appliance (PBBA) market, arguably the biggest application within the storage appliance segment, grew by 43.4% in 2011 compared to the prior year. IDC expects growth to continue at nearly 20% through 2016, “driven by customers' need to augment their existing data protection and recovery infrastructure or to modernize their environments taking advantage of data deduplication.” The analysis also cites growth springing from businesses shifting away from tape as the need for rapid recovery increases.
EMC remains the obvious leader in PBBA market share, trailed distantly by IBM, HP, Symantec, and many others. All providers are scrambling to provide a range of storage solutions for businesses needing more capacity for their virtualized environments, document distribution, compliance with records retention requirements, and disaster recovery needs. In general, the larger the company, the more it will find storage appliances advantages. That said, even small branch offices may find benefits in relying on a storage appliance for site protection and lower total site costs.
William Van Winkle has been a full-time tech writer and author since 1998. He specializes in a wide range of coverage areas, including unified communications, virtualization, Cloud Computing, storage solutions and more. William lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with his wife and 2.4 kids, and—when not scrambling to meet article deadlines—he enjoys reading, travel, and writing fiction.
See here for all of William's Tom's IT Pro articles.
(Shutterstock cover image credit: Storage SCSI )