Being a history buff stuck in the storage industry, I’ve long had an interest in how we got where we are. So much of the storage industry is rooted in legacy, and we can learn much by knowing why things turned out the way they did.
I’d like to kick off a series of articles with an exploration of a key piece of storage technology, the open systems NAS array. Now, lots of people think that NAS is a new development, but this is not so. In my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that NAS predates SAN by a few years at least, and its history is linked to the development of open systems servers, too!
Let’s start with some basics. I’m assuming that NAS is defined as the sharing of files (rather than blocks) over a high-level protocol. NAS generally addresses offsets within files within folders, and we usually encounter it today in the form of CIFS or NFS servers, which operate over the familiar IP protocol and Ethernet networks.
This was not always the case, of course. The earliest file servers I could find were created at Stanford using Xerox Alto servers, and headless file servers were named and in place by 1979, according to Byte magazine. Certainly, development of the concept of a “server” and file server in particular was helped by the introduction of XNS around 1981, as it included RPC functionality.
Novell took this concept and ran with it, transforming XNS SPP into IPX/SPX and introducing NetWare in 1983. It’s safe to say that NetWare was the first file server software, at least in the open systems world.
But there was another heavy hitter in town – 3Com. These days, it’s easy to forget just how important this company was back then, but the networking and storage world would look very different without 3Com! It was founded to exploit Xerox PARC’s Ethernet protocol, and like Intel today spent much of its first decade pushing networked applications into the market.
3Com developed a network server operating system of their own on top of DOS – 3+Share. Over two decades, this product would evolve into LAN Manager, SMB, and CIFS!
But 3Com released a hardware product, too, and this is critical to our exploration of the storage industry. The 3Server was based on the Intel x86 architecture and booted MS-DOS, but was not a PC. It had no provision for a “head” (keyboard and monitor), and was managed remotely over the network. It included seven disk drive slots from its 1985 introduction and included software to manage these disks and present storage over the network. Let’s see – headless dedicated server with disk slots running a proprietary file serving OS. Sound like a storage array to you? Me too!
Although it originally supported XNS over Ethernet and AppleTalk, Token Ring support was added quickly. The 3Server (like NetWare) also supported network applications, but it was its storage protocol that had the most impact. 3Com worked with IBM to develop a successor to 3+Share, which IBM called LAN Manager and 3Com called 3+Open. This was based on OS/2 and was handed over to Microsoft in early 1991 as 3Com refocused on network infrastructure.
So who knows of an earlier storage array in the open systems world? I’ll cover Auspex/NetApp, EMC, and the rest in future installments of Storage History.