Business benefits of SANs: User case studies

Posted on May 01, 2001

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SPECIAL REPORT

Users cite high availability, performance, scalability, and cost reductions through centralized management and storage consolidation.

BY RICHARD LEE AND HARRIETT BENNETT

Many end-user organizations have taken the storage area network (SAN) plunge, with thousands of open systems SANs operating throughout the world. Now that SAN technology has been available for several years, it's a good time to take a look at how some of these early adopters are faring with their new storage network environments.

To accomplish this, we chose eight deployments to profile, each of which has provided business benefits in varying degrees. In some cases, the dominant benefits were high availability and business continuity. Other SANs were cost-justified based on their ability to solve performance issues in rapid growth Exchange and SQL Server environments. Service providers clearly get the most out of SAN technology, not only due to the merits of scalability and manageability, but also by the ability to reach cost thresholds that allow them to provide new, lower-cost services to clients.

Whether the SAN solution belongs to an end user or a service provider, all have the common benefit of reduced costs through centralized storage management and the overall consolidation of storage assets. Even in this early stage of open systems storage networking, the promises of SANs are beginning to be fulfilled.

A business built on SANs

Intira Corp., in Pleasanton, CA, built its storage environment from the ground up on SANs. Intira provides outsourced infrastructure services to Fortune 1000 companies that demand guaranteed uptime of complex mission-critical applications. Comprehensive integration and management of everything up to the application layer-facilities, networks, data centers, servers, storage, and databases-place stringent demands on every aspect of Intira's IT operations.

Two years ago, when Intira was entering the ASP market, open systems storage networking was in its infancy, and strategic decisions were especially difficult. With scant precedent to guide it, Intira was faced with the challenges of figuring out the pieces, assessing vendors' visions, and evaluating alliances. A primary goal was to standardize wherever possible, which required the company to predict the direction of industry standards. The nature of Intira's business makes the support of a heterogeneous mix of Unix, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 servers imperative.

The appeal of SANs went far beyond their ability to support multiple types of servers. Intira also needed to scale servers independently of storage and required the local and remote data replication and distances that Fibre Channel makes possible. A highly redundant switched fabric was a critical necessity, as was a means for LAN-free backup. Every SAN attribute that contributes to a 24x7 environment was implemented in Intira's IT environment.

Intira selected the Veritas Foundation Suite as the core of its storage networks, with Veritas Volume Manager and File System in place as the first step in its longer-term storage virtualization strategy. EMC and Hewlett-Packard provided the SAN storage for the many hundreds of servers. Brocade and McData are the primary vendors for Intira's switching requirements. Now with more than 100TB of data managed in multiple data centers, Intira has a robust infrastructure with strong security, a consolidated storage framework, and centralized management.


Charts are based on a survey of 1,003 business and technology professionals.
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Guaranteed by rigorous service level agreements (SLAs), Intira's business thrives on its ability to meet tight deadlines, handle enormous volumes of data, and effectively address unpredictable levels of demand. "We built our business on SAN technology," says Agnes Lamont, Intira's director of product management. "With sophisticated techniques for storage management, we can do more with fewer people and they develop a higher degree of expertise. SANs have opened up everyone's thinking."

Healthcare requires SAN availability

In the field of healthcare, the availability of clinical data can acutely affect the quality of care that patients receive. Eclipsys Corp., headquartered in Delray Beach, FL, is dedicated to delivering "actionable data" at the point of decision-making to 1,400 healthcare organizations through end-to-end clinical and financial information solutions. Applications include medical record management, clinical decision support, drug information databases, as well as healthcare Website hosting.

In operation since 1995, Eclipsys has embraced SAN technology to enable new business opportunities by offering new means of data access that were previously cost-prohibitive for its customers to implement in-house. In turn, Eclipsys clients benefit from lower IT costs while being able to improve their practices with new data.

With the help of SANs, Eclipsys serves clinics and hospitals from data centers equipped with mainframe, Unix, NT, and AS/400 hosts. Eclipsys' first SAN was implemented two years ago in its System/390 mainframe environment. Subsequent SANs have been deployed for open systems, with virtually all of the company's Unix servers and some of its numerous NT servers attached to a SAN.

Key requirements for these SANs include high availability, extreme scalability, and data-sharing support for both mainframes and open systems. Central-ized storage management also contributes substantially to reduce costs by enabling administrators to manage up to four times as much storage than they could when it was server-attached.

Eclipsys chose to base these large-scale SANs on Hitachi Data Systems' HDS 7000 arrays and Inrange's 128-port FC/9000 Series Fibre Channel Directors. Currently, more than 20TB of data is being managed throughout Eclipsys' IT operations.

In a 24x7 clinical environment, high availability is paramount. Eclipsys uses dual pathing via Inrange FC/9000 switches and also employs HDS's ShadowImage to facilitate centralized backup. "The transition to SANs was easy, with good assistance from HDS and Inrange," reports Michael Pitoscia, director of open systems at Eclipsys. Although it is clear that SANs will ultimately provide a high return on investment for Eclipsys, "SAN acquisition is expensive, so we're using it judicially," Pitoscia adds.

Healthcare information services represents an exploding business model. With more than 2,000 healthcare specialties, burgeoning amounts of digital medical information, frequently changing regulatory processes, and continuous updates to drug databases, SAN technology allows Eclipsys to scale servers and storage seamlessly. It will also enable the company to quickly integrate new information sources such as video feeds.

Consolidation of storage and server assets, as well as administrative efforts, keeps IT costs down while making new levels of data quality and accessibility possible for healthcare providers, which can mean better healthcare for patients.

SANs streamline TV production

Chambers Productions, a film, video, and multimedia production company based in Eugene, OR, knew that if storage technology could provide a way to increase efficiency, the company could expand to encompass more low-cost and time-sensitive projects. Until the company installed a SAN, the process of logging, digitizing, and editing was serial because files moved from one workstation to another, resulting in personnel costs that often kept Chambers from bidding on low-budget projects.

Seattle, WA-based Driveline, a Tivoli Business Partner, proposed a SAN solution consisting of AVID video editing systems, Tivoli SANergy file sharing software, and Vixel Fibre Channel switches. Before the SAN, each editing station had its own storage. Now a production team shares 500GB of SAN storage and can work on files simultaneously. Chambers' production manager Adam Falk states that with Tivoli SANergy, "we reduced production costs by 30% to 40%." Whereas it once took Falk's team 15 days to produce a single show, they can now complete two half-hour shows in 10 days.

Not only does file sharing enable higher productivity and shorter production times. In fact, the ease of storage allocation among users and the high bandwidth of Fibre Channel contribute to enhanced efficiency as well.

Data on Chambers' SAN is by nature transient, making consolidated storage management especially compelling. Usually online for only days or weeks, files can be readily transferred off of primary storage under centralized control.

SANs for xSPs

Chicago, IL-based ASP-One is typical in many respects of the numerous xSP start-ups founded over the past few years. The company did not have a well-thought-out storage strategy but did require a solution that supported high availability, extreme levels of scalability and flexibility, and the ability to quickly transition from test mode to production mode.

ASP-One decided to standardize on Windows 2000 Advanced Server and was focusing on clustered versions of Exchange and SQL Server. ASP-One chose IBM as its primary vendor partner to design and deploy a SAN based on IBM's ESS "Shark" array, along with infrastructure components from Brocade and others. ASP-One required the use of data protection features like Point in Time Copy and Flash Copy for unattended, off-network backup (not supported by Windows 2000 natively), along with a storage device that could scale from an initial capacity of just under 1TB to tens of terabytes. ASP-One used IBM's Global Services organization for deployment and support. ASP-One currently has eight two-node Windows 2000 clusters deployed on its SAN.

SAN reduces admin costs

Evans & Sutherland (E&S), a provider of visualization workstations, has made a major investment in a campus-wide SAN to meet many of the same IT challenges that its own customers must contend with. The company needed a solution that would reduce the costs and administrative burdens associated with storage management and configuration change, along with providing a high-availability environment for its mission-critical applications. The company also needed to scale the environment rapidly, with zero loss of data under any conditions.

Working with Compaq and partners Brocade, Veritas, and others, E&S designed and deployed a multi-tier SAN across its campus that not only supports the requirements previously listed, but also increased application performance and storage flexibility. The company is no longer constrained in terms of how it uses storage to facilitate mission-critical applications.

E&S currently uses Windows NT/2000-oriented SAN components from Compaq (including Virtual Replicator) to support storage virtualization and has built out its infrastructure specifically to support the deployment of an enterprise-wide virtualization scheme when it becomes available. E&S uses Compaq's ESA and EMA storage platforms with Fibre Channel controllers, Compaq's SANworks management appliance, and Veritas' NetBackup for SAN-based backup and restore, along with built-in copying and replication features from Compaq for disaster recovery and business continuance support.

E&S's only challenges so far have been associated with operating system and firmware changes. Each time one of the vendors changes its code, Compaq and E&S must bring the rest of the SAN into conformance. This typically requires the direct support of Compaq's engineering organization in Colorado Springs, CO.

SAN solves performance "hot spots"

When Andersen Corp., a leader in the window and patio door industry, went looking for a new way to share data among its Exchange and SQL servers, they knew that virtualized storage could be the answer. Not only were they seeking scalability, disk mirroring, and file-sharing capabilities, but they also needed a solution for frequent Exchange and SQL performance "hot spots."

The first stage of Andersen's enterprise storage strategy is now under way, with three SAN "islands" based on XIOtech's Magnitude disk arrays. Each array is essentially a "SAN in a box." As the deployment unfolds, the SAN islands will be interconnected.

Currently, each Magnitude SAN handles approximately 12 NT servers connected via SCSI with QLogic 2200 host bus adapters and Brocade 2800 SilkWorm switches. Andersen also uses XIOtech's SANLinks software for disk mirroring. So far, the average SAN configuration includes 2.4TB of disk storage and 16 ports. Even in this early phase of deployment, Andersen can already see significant business benefits from the use of SANs in the areas of storage consolidation, manageability, performance, and availability.

By creating a virtual pool of storage, instead of server-attached storage, the company was able to consolidate capacity by about 30%. Server consolidation-sometimes by a factor of two-further contributed to the SANs' return on investment. Andersen also saw considerable improvement in its growing Exchange environment, where performance bottlenecks are common. "We had two Exchange servers with 1,400 users and got buried with disk I/O, and the servers maxed out at 100%. With the Magnitude, disk performance improved eightfold and CPU usage dropped to 10% to 12%," says Dave Hill, NT technical lead at Andersen.

The SAN and its virtualization scheme also brought business continuity benefits to Andersen. Whereas file corruption used to bring a server down for an entire day, the servers can now be redirected, and downtime can be reduced to zero. Greater backup flexibility is also in the plans for Andersen when it SAN-enables its StorageTek tape libraries to back up from any device on the SAN.

The next big step in Andersen's SAN strategy is to incorporate Unix applications and, more ambitiously, to connect the SAN islands, as well as incorporate its existing EMC storage into the virtual pool. According to Hill, "We want to let everything see everything in the storage network-disks, servers, backup devices, and multiple operating systems."

Richard Lee is president, and Harriett Bennett is a senior analyst, at Data Storage Technologies, a consulting firm in Ridgewood, NJ.


The SAN behind InfoStor


It used to be that when an article was ready for publication, an electronic file would be transferred to film for plates, from which the paper version of a publication would be printed. Now, Tulsa, OK-based PennWell Corp. (publisher of InfoStor and 39 other publications) has implemented Computer to Plate (CTP) technology, where data goes straight to the presses. Eliminating the use of film results in huge savings in production costs. However, data storage requirements increase tenfold at the outset, with anticipated capacity growth of 20% to 25% per year.


ROB HENDRICKS -- PennWell
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PennWell looked at several options for handling this data, including various storage area network (SAN), network-attached storage (NAS), and hierarchical storage management (HSM) solutions. Based on the company's most vital criteria of performance and redundancy, a decision was made to invest in SAN technology. The SAN solution required the ability to handle very large files without performance degradation and to retain these files for certain periods of time. PennWell also wanted to eliminate single points of failure through clustered servers that could be configured on-the-fly. Based on cost, feature set, and prior experience, a Compaq SAN was chosen for the CTP project.

The Compaq StorageWorks SAN initially includes 1TB of RAID storage, three servers, and 8-port Fibre Channel switches. Each server is configured with dual pathing for high availability. When deadlines for going to print loom, server or storage downtime is intolerable and can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars if substitute equipment needs to be configured. "If a server went down in our previous system, precious time would be lost moving over to a new server. Now the process is automated," says Rob Hendricks, PennWell's network operations manager.

While CTP technology brings significant cost savings during the pre-press process, using a SAN provides the additional benefits of risk reduction as well as centralized storage management.

PennWell also plans to implement LAN-free backup to a SAN-attached DLT library to reduce backup time from 60 hours to 4 hours. Designed for high availability, performance, and ease of expansion, PennWell's new SAN helps keep the presses rolling.


SANs: a slam dunk for SSPs


By Heidi Biggar

For storage service providers (SSPs), Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs) have become commonplace. Unlike the end-user community, where SAN adoption is estimated to be around 10% to 15%, the SSP market has fully embraced the technology.

Able to leverage the cost of SAN installations across multiple users, SSPs can more easily justify SAN investments than can end users. Equally important, SSPs can more easily manage the added complexity.

"We provide economy of scale by providing a service to a broad number of users within an Internet data center [IDC], so the extra cost and complexity is worth it because it has an immediate payback," says Randy White, vice president of operations at SSP Arsenal Digital Solutions.

Conversely, end users generally aren't implementing SANs until they need a particular capability. "The complexity of configuring and maintaining a SAN-not to mention the cost-can very quickly drive end users away," explains White.

The immediate appeal of a SAN to SSPs is the improved reliability it offers. "Our IDC partners have to be able to guarantee end-user service levels, which tends to put us to a higher standard than [if we sold direct to end users]," says White.

Beyond reliability, SANs enable virtualization, which opens the door to a variety of value-added services, including storage-on-demand, capacity planning, and on-the-fly capacity reconfiguration.

Currently, Arsenal services are "live" in 24 IDCs across the country. Each center has at least one SAN, though several have multiple implementations. The number of SANs is determined by the size of the infrastructure.

"We use a building block approach, where we set a minimum and maximum size for the implementation," explains White. "When a SAN gets to a certain size, it gets unwieldy, so we replicate it." Replication adds costs but improves reliability, he says.

Arsenal uses the same shared infrastructure at all its IDC locations but customizes SANs for certain customers where shared environments don't make sense. For performance reasons, some large e-commerce sites, for example, are better off in their own environments, he says.

Shared or unshared environment, Arsenal uses the same physical components to build its SANs. Components include Sun T3 storage arrays and servers, StorageTek libraries, Veritas NetBackup software, and Vicom routers.

White says Arsenal's familiarity with, and data-center confidence in, the Sun platform were key considerations in its decision to implement Sun-based SAN infrastructures.

Arsenal SAN services are charged on a managed-gigabyte-per-month basis. Each service agreement has a capacity override of at least 10%. The overall fee also includes Arsenal's backup/restore service.


SANs at The Met


New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is using a SAN to meets its goals of being a leader in providing digital imaging of the arts in streaming and still form. The Met required a high-availability architecture to meet its digital-imaging challenges and found that the costs of such an environment with a SAN were lower than with a traditional distributed client-server architecture. This was determined based on internal return on investment and total cost of ownership calculations that the IT staff conducted.

The Met chose the team of Dell and StorageApps to design, deploy, and support its SAN environment. The solution is based on Dell PowerVault servers and storage, a fully redundant switched Fibre Channel fabric from Brocade, a tape library from ATL, and SAN management software and SAN Link Appliances from StorageApps.

Dell assumed the lead role on the project, with StorageApps providing primary support and project management along the way. The two vendors delivered an operations and training plan early in the project and supported it through production. This SAN has now become the cornerstone of the Met's processing environment and supports more than 1TB of production data in a high-availability environment with offsite disaster recovery (via snapshots) and business continuance functionality.


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