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Wireless NAS Seeks a Niche

More wireless NAS servers are showing up, but where are the customers?

Tritton Technologies this week launched WiFi NAS servers (see Tritton Cuts NAS Chord). Last month, Iomega Corp. (NYSE: IOM) began shipping its 100d wireless NAS servers and Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) Linksys enhanced its wireless NAS family. In August, Palmchip Semiconductor was born with the intention of creating chips for wireless NAS and other storage devices (see Palmchip Targets Wireless NAS).

The file server products are similar: they include up to 250GB of storage with built-in wireless access that cost in the $500 to $600 range. Nothing complicated. But it's worth asking: Is this an emerging technology worth watching, or a trend looking for a market?

The product people at Procom Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: PRCME) weren't sure what their market would be when they launched their Taurus wireless NAS in July of 2003 (see Procom Tunes in WiFi Appliance and Procom Drags Its NAS to Europe). "A lot of people here didn't know where it was going to stick," Procom VP of engineering Bill Long says. Privately they may have wondered if Taurus was a lot of bull.

Long says Procom has found two primary markets for wireless NAS. And although most vendors pitch them as consumer and SOHO products, Procom didn't get much response in either of those markets.

Long says hotels and schools take to the Procom's Taurus. Hotels place a wireless server on each floor to provide guests with wireless access, then use a central server to run the software needed for administrative functions such as management, billing, and so on.

Taurus has also found a home in college classrooms and lecture halls. Professors place their presentations and assignments on a server so students can access the material on laptops or handheld devices.

So wireless NAS isn't strictly a home device, but it's a long way from the enterprise. Still, Palmchip CEO Jauher Zaidi says it could end up there after long-distance WiMax technology arrives (see WiMax Spec Ratified).

Tritton president Chris Von Huben says his company might have an enterprise version next year. For now, he sees it as a fit for small departments of large companies. "It can act as an access point for wireless networks, so I can reach areas where I can't run cabling," he says. Von Huben claims General Dynamics Corp. is running a test unit in one of its labs and could eventually run the wireless servers in other labs.

But Long says he doesn't see Taurus ever competing with Procom's enterprise NAS systems for one reason: security fears. "It can be used in public places where security is less on people's minds," he says. "The mindset of IT professionals is, wireless is less secure. It won't be used on private networks."

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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