Users look to ease SAN adoption

The installation and configuration of storage-area network technology has gotten simpler as companies such as Dell Inc. and QLogic Corp. have begun selling low-cost, easy-to-install SAN equipment and software, users say.

The trend is expected to become even simpler, when Hewlett-Packard Co., QLogic and Microsoft Corp. introduce low-cost SAN packages at Storage Networking World in November in Orlando.

The companies are following a trend of introducing SAN packages for users who are looking to set up their own environments that are easier to use. Among the SAN bundles already available are the Dell/EMC AX100, QLogic’s SAN Connectivity Kit and StoneFly Networks Inc.’s IP SAN, which lets users attach Advanced Technology Attachment drives to the Gigabit network. One IT manager, Tim Pindell, network engineer for Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, installed a Fibre Channel-based Dell/EMC SAN on his own. Another, Lorie Beam, director of IT for law firm Smith Anderson in Raleigh, N.C., had EMC Corp. install her blended network-attached storage (NAS)/SAN for her.

Still another, Bill Polymenakos, director of technology at construction company Ecker Enterprises Inc. in Chicago, had a value-added reseller install an IP SAN, although he says he could have done it himself, if he had the time.

Pindell installed and configured his Dell/EMC AX100 Fibre Channel SAN to meet the performance requirements he had for his Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server implementations. The AX100 connects to two servers via an integrated Fibre Channel switch.

No experience needed

“I had no Fibre Channel experience whatsoever when I installed the AX100,” Pindell says. “It was pretty straightforward. The drivers were easy to install. It was just like installing any other network adapter. Once I hooked up the fiber-optic cables to the Dell AX/100, everything saw each other. I just followed the directions that Dell gave me.”

Pindell also evaluated NAS appliances, but found they cost more than his Dell/EMC SAN. A dual-controller Dell/EMC AX/100 Storage Array with four QLogic host bus adapters (HBA) and 880G bytes of capacity starts at US$14,300.

“If we were going to spend the kind of money on a NAS device, we might as well step up to the performance we could receive from a Fibre Channel SAN,” says Pindell.

Using documentation Dell provided, Pindell assigned servers to storage resources.

“There was some general information on partitioning the array,” says Pindell, who has 850GB to 900GB of Fibre Channel storage. “You just have to follow the onscreen directions based on the recommendations for your size box.”

Pindell says one of the primary issues that drove the company’s decision to buy Fibre Channel storage was the AX/100’s scalability. The AX100 can scale to 3TB.

“We don’t anticipate that we will grow enough to put in a separate Fibre Channel switch, Pindell says. However, he says that as more users at Otterbein access the SAN, he might need to reconfigure his SAN and add a separate Fibre Channel switch.

Pindell also was interested in the redundancy and fault tolerance the AX100 offered. He installed two QLogic HBAs in each server that fail over for each other. He also has supplemented his array with dual controllers.

“I confirmed that the HBAs would fail over if one got pinched,” Pindell says. “I also confirmed its failover capability by unplugging one of the controllers on the back of the AX100. It was able to recover after a few moments, and there were no problems with inactivity.”

As for saving money implementing his first SAN, Pindell says he won’t have to buy internal storage on any more servers and will be able to add more drives to the AX100 when he needs more capacity.

“We just have to buy new drives, not new servers,” Pindell says.

Universal access for law firm

Beam had universal access to data in mind when she installed an EMC SAN. Data formerly stored on various servers in her network involved creating complicated drive mappings to data for the attorneys and other employees at Smith Anderson.

“You might have someone mapped to one server for their data and another to another server,” Beam says. “It was chaos. We took a big whiteboard and defined where all our data is. We wanted it in a central place and had to figure how we were going to move all this data to a place and have it redundant.”

“If it’s a court date, the courts don’t care if your file is on your server and your server is down.” Beam says.

Beam installed an EMC Clariion Fibre Channel CX600 array and attached it to an EMC NS600G gateway, which attaches the SAN array to the network and lets users view the data as files and documents.

“It was our opportunity to buy a good product without the expensive price EMC typically adds on their product line,” Beam says. “It wasn’t overkill for our needs. It was still in that small and midsize business area and was reachable for us. And we went with EMC because the partners had heard of EMC.”

Like Pindell, Beam also looked at iSCSI and NAS appliances, but rejected them because of price. Beam has 500G bytes of storage, but was attracted to the CX600’s scalability.

“It gave us the flexibility to go beyond that capability when the time came,” Beam says. “Plus, we don’t have any Fibre Channel switches yet, so when that time comes we can add a Fibre Channel switch.”

Bottom line is price

Polymenakos of Ecker Enterprises chose a different route — he installed an iSCSI SAN from StoneFly Networks. Like Pindell and Beam, much of Polymenakos’ decision came down to price.

“The decision between the Fibre Channel and the iSCSI SAN was easy to make on price,” Polymenakos says. “The Fibre SANs were US$150,000 to US$200,000, whereas the IP SAN with a very good amount of storage with plenty of room for growth clocked in at about 20 per cent of that if not lower with a very comprehensive set of add-ons as well management software.”

Polymenakos manages his SAN with the help of two other IT staff members. Both were familiar with Ethernet, but not Fibre Channel.

“There was going to be a big learning curve getting used to managing and implementing a Fibre Channel SAN, whereas I already had an Ethernet infrastructure,” Polymenakos says. “There is no difference between iSCSI and Ethernet. You have to understand an IP address and whether you are attaching to a StoneFly storage concentrator, to a server, or clients to a server.”

Like Pindell, Polymenakos found installation and configuration to be easier than he thought.

“The setup, implementation and provisioning of storage to the servers is mind-blowingly simple,” Polymenakos says. “Via a Web interface, you tell it the name of the server, what storage volume you want to assign it to and how much storage capacity you want to assign, and there you go.”

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