But network performance issues persisted. To combat this, the company added a cluster of NT application servers connected to a network switch. According to Seif, this reduced TCO per desktop from $8000 in 1996 to less than $1400 by 2002.
Next came a Network Appliance-based NAS. This offered networked storage for the NT cluster. This resulted in better Windows-based file sharing capabilities and a greater ability to manage distributed applications.
"NAS is easier to manage than a SAN and provided huge benefits in terms of NT storage and backup performance," says Seif. "SAN requires very careful planning whereas with NAS you can drop it in and make it work in a relatively small amount of time."
While the SAN and NAS proved worthwhile projects in their own right, National now considers it double work to manage both separately. The next stage in the evolution of the National data center, then, is the investigating the best means of achieving of a seamless convergence between SAN and NAS. The plan is to be able to eventually manage storage across multiple platforms without effort. By doing so, National's CIO believes the SAN/NAS management nightmare and the need for separate storage pools will vanish. But that hasn't been achieved yet.
In the meantime, further upgrades have been carried out. FDDI has been replaced by an all Fibre Channel Switched (FC-SW) network that encompasses HPUX, Sun, IBM RS/6000 (running AIX) and clustered Dell servers running NT/Windows 2000. These connect via a fabric switch to several EMC boxes. The company is also investigating iSCSI as a possible alternative to FC.
National is also moving in the direction of a virtual data center concept that manages all of the company's activities around the planet. Seif envisions the use of iSCSI for speed over distance and FC for local speed.