Genesis of a storage project

If you’re looking at an LCD monitor, there’s a good chance there’s some technology from Genesis Microchip Inc. between you and your video card. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company supplies video controller chips for monitors, flat panel and digital TVs to manufacturers around the world.

About two-thirds of the company’s staff is involved in engineering and product development. Its R&D network connects sites in Santa Clara, Markham, Ont., and Bangalore, India.

(On Jan. 25, Genesis was bought by Geneva-based STMicroelectronics; it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary.)

Engineers at those sites run simulations on the chips, requiring large amounts of data – from about 150 GB at the low end of the scale to 500 GB. Engineers found data transfer rates were bottlenecking; simulations could take hours or even days.

“We run simulations on workstations, on blade technology,” says Mark Gelsomini, Genesis Microchip’s IT operations manager. “We’ll take the design chip and throw it onto a system and say, run it, see if there are faults, any gate issues.”

Genesis had been a NetApps appliance shop storagewise. But the boxes were showing their age. “The read-write access, the allocation access, the whole access portion of getting that data off of the storage was like pulling teeth,” Gelsomini says. “It was very slow, very cumbersome.

And the cost of ownership became an issue. “As they grew older, the maintenance costs increased, the support structure changed on that level. The feasibility and flexibility of expansion was also an issue. Every time we needed new storage, we would have to go and buy another NetApp box. Thus, in turn, more rack space, more power requirements.

“We were becoming overrun with boxes upon boxes upon boxes of NetApps.”

Those simulation times dropped to from minutes to about three-quarters of an hour with the replacement of the storage platform with a Fibre Channel-based IP storage infrastructure from EMC, says Gelsomini.

“Time, which is very critical to the engineers, has dramatically decreased to run a simulation,” he says.

Pravin Singodia, director of commercial business for EMC Canada, says understanding the file structure of the operation was the single biggest contributor to the performance improvement.

“Understanding of the applications and, at the end of the day, how the data was laid out in terms of consistency between their locations,” was key, he says. “It’s always a challenge for us to take the time and really understand what they want to do with the end result and how to architect and layout the files.”

“Our file systems are in the terabytes in size,” says Gelsomini. “We have millions of sub-files that could extend 1.5 TB to 2 TB per file system. That is very important because that retains the structure in which the simulation was run, and the current project that is running in that environment.”

Genesis is now using an EMC NS 42 and NS 702 for the engineering data store. The fibre channel drives are 10 to 20 times as fast as the SCSI array and RAID 5 technology it replaced, says Gelsomini.

The NS 42 is an investment of $80,000 to $110,000, depending on how it’s configured. While Genesis’s system has a capacity of 15 TB, it’s expandable to 32 TB. The memory is already in the box – it just has to be provisioned, rather than have someone open the box and install the (expensive) new disks for the NetApp machines.

Shipping the box with more storage than the user is paying for might seem like an upfront loss for EMC, but it isn’t, Singodia says. There’s overhead on both the customer and the vendor sides – shipping and insuring the disks for EMC, the cost-of-doing-business overhead associated with the purchasing process of the customer – to offset that.

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