Network attached storage (NAS) can pose problems for MSPs with small and mid-sized business customers. MSPs may find themselves stranded between low-end, retail-channel devices in the sub $800 range and, on the other end of the spectrum, half-million dollar enterprise-class platforms (even a “midrange” NAS can run into the tens of thousands of dollars).

A few vendors, however, now aim for the middle. Sanbolic Inc. and Gridstore Inc. offer two approaches, which simultaneously deal with the issue of scaling NAS.

Here’s a look at what’s on offer and how MSPs may fit in.

Sanbolic: Turning Isolated Servers Into NAS

Sanbolic earlier this month unveiled ShareCenter, a software file serving module that can be deployed on physical or virtual servers running file server workloads, according to the company. Waltham, Mass.-based Sanbolic says ShareCenter converts Windows Server installations into scalable NAS environments. ShareCenter consolidates file server workloads onto commodity hardware and provides centralized management and provisioning, said Momchil Michailov, co-founder and CEO of Sanbolic.

The idea is to take siloed, single-point-of-failure server environments with low utilization and consolidate them into a scale-out platform that reduces management costs while boosting availability and utilization, he noted. Sanbolic says its software consolidates the storage backend by creating a single storage pool that is available concurrently to multiple physical or virtual NAS heads -- the interface between storage and client devices.

NAS heads may be physical or virtual, the latter running on any mix of VMware, Xen or Hyper-V virtualization. The company said the approach reduces sprawl, cuts operational management and capital costs, and improves storage utilization by up to 60 percent.   Michailov said he aims to tap the vast mid-range market with ShareCenter.

The software is included as part of Melio Enterprise software suite, which starts at $999.

“There’s a huge market in the middle: SMBs and small enterprises with lots of servers scattered,” Michailov said.

Sanbolic works with channel partners such as MSPs, VARs, and hosting providers. Hosting provider partners use Melio software to create private or public cloud offerings. Most end users, however, use the product to consolidate their existing or new Windows file serving deployments, according to the company.

Gridstore: A Grid of NAS Devices

Gridstore’s NAS approach revolves around a grid of 1U x 19-inch x 9.84-inch storage nodes, software that controls the storage resources, and a Microsoft Management Console snap-in that provides the administration interface.

The company’s software creates a virtual storage pool, from which customers may create multiple volumes. Customers add nodes to boost the storage pool’s capacity. The company employs a virtualized controller, which is distributed to every server and client machine that connects to the storage.

When a file is written to a Gridstore volume, the file is sliced into fragments which are sent in a parallel stream to each storage node in the grid, noted Kelly Murphy, Gridstore’s co-founder and CEO.

Murphy said Gridstore’s technology aims for customers stuck between the low-cost NAS model and the high-end enterprise storage model. Murphy said he’s seen quite a few MSPs who roll out low-cost, standalone NAS devices to support customers, a practice he said leads to storage sprawl and introduces multiple points of failure. On the other hand, high-end NAS storage involves a large capital investment and requires specialized skills to operate and manage, he added.

“It’s that group in the middle where people are finding [Gridstore] attractive,” Murphy said.

Gridstore pricing starts at $499 for a 1TB node and $599 for a 2TB node. A complete 10TB grid system, including software, can be deployed for less than $7,000.

Murphy said about half of Gridstore’s customers are MSPs. The typical use case is remote backup. Here, an MSP may start with a few blocks of storage for an initial customer and then add more blocks as they sign additional clients. Gridstore formalized its channel efforts last year.

Saving On Storage

NAS options such as Sanbolic and Gridstore could help MSPs build their own storage services. Storage infrastructure that’s cheaper to acquire and less costly to manage could relieve margin pressure in crowded markets such as online backup.