I’m looking for a Network Attached Storage (NAS) server for a small office (about 100 employees) with a mixed Microsoft and UNIX client base. I’ve narrowed my choices to Network Appliance’s NetApp F85 or Dell’s PowerVault 735N. Which would you recommend?

A. The NetApp F85 is an entry-level product that differs from NetApp's F700 series in several ways. First, Dell is actually the NetApp F85's OEM, although the product runs NetApp's Data ONTAP OS. NetApp is known for its hardware, but the OS is the component that completes any NAS server. Data ONTAP is widely compatible and permits configurations such as NTFS formatting. Differences among NAS server OSs can be as great as differences among PC OSs, and Data ONTAP has significant benefits.

Second, the NetApp F85 is SCSI-based rather than fibre-based. If you want to switch to the vendor's F700 series fibre boxes later, NetApp will provide a trade-in value for the F85, but you'll still need to migrate data from the old unit to the new unit. However, being SCSI-based doesn't adversely affect performance—the NetApp F85 outperforms the NetApp F720 and NetApp F740.

The NetApp F85 is currently limited to about 400GB of usable disk space. Connection options include support for 10/100 Ethernet switches and Gigabit Ethernet. The NetApp F85 also supports file-level security and Active Directory (AD) integration. A fully populated rack-mounted server costs about $50,000.

Your other choice, the PowerVault 735N, runs embedded Windows 2000 Server, so the product supports AD integration, file-level security, journaling, disk quotas, file sharing and locking, and most of the other functions you'd expect from a standalone Win2K server. The PowerVault 735N supports UNIX access through NFS emulation. The primary drawback to this emulation will be performance loss.

The Dell product ships with 144GB of disk space, which you can expand to as much as 1.44TB through the addition of an optional RAID card and as many as three Dell PowerVault 210S SCSI expansion cabinets (each cabinet supports as much as 432GB). Like the NetApp product, the PowerVault 735N can support a single or dual 10/100 Ethernet switch or a Gigabit Ethernet interface. Pricing starts at $10,000 and can scale to upwards of $50,000 if you opt for the maximum storage.

In a mixed Win2K, Windows NT, and UNIX environment such as yours, the NetApp F85's OS might make that product the better choice. Of course, other variables (e.g., warranty, the applications you use, cost, performance) will affect your final decision. (For a comparative review of several other NAS servers, see John Green, "Network Attached Storage," May 2001.)

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