Building a SAN for SMBs, part 7: Build a SAN in less than an hour

Posted on February 01, 2005

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Hewlett-Packard and QLogic combine forces to develop HP’s SMB SAN Kit.

By Jack Fegreus

For many small to medium-sized business (SMB) sites, the construct of a SAN is as remote as executing a lunar landing. Fibre Channel-based SANs have until recently been very costly and complex to implement. As a result, demystifying SANs and simplifying initial installation have been key goals for most storage vendors.

At the vanguard of this SAN simplification movement has been QLogic with its wizard-based SANsurfer, a host-based software package designed to simplify both the configuration and ongoing management of its Fibre Channel switches and host bus adapters (HBAs).

QLogic pioneered the concept of a SAN Kit, which packages a switch with HBAs, cables, connectors, and software to simplify installation of a Fibre Channel network infrastructure. Now in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard, the two have extended the reach of wizard-based software down to the storage array. The new product, which is marketed by HP as the StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000 (MSA1000) Small Business SAN Kit, is designed to enable a site to bring up an entire first SAN from a single wizard-based GUI.

To understand the impact of the HP SAN Kit on an SMB site, we installed two SANs, each with an MSA1000 as its central storage array. We equipped the MSA1000 with an optional second RAID controller to test the ability to handle automatic fail-over via multi-pathing of SAN I/O connections. In each SAN we configured two HP ML370 servers running Microsoft Windows Server 2003. While the SAN Kit is operating system-agnostic, the biggest gains come when running Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft only offers a command-line interface for the VDS storage management framework. QLogic leverages the VDS service with its wizard-based SANsurfer VDS Manager, which detects, configures, and manages logical unit numbers (LUNs), QLogic HBAs and switches, as well as other VDS-supported storage devices. SANsurfer VDS Manager utilizes the HP MultiPath I/O Hardware Provider software module to add provisioning storage on the MSA1000 to it capabilities, which also include the mapping and display of the SAN’s topology.

We configured our first SAN using the HP StorageWorks SAN Switch 2/16-an OEM version of Brocade’s SilkWorm 3800 switch. On each of the two servers we installed a QLogic SANBlade QLA2342 Fibre Channel HBA along with QLogic’s SANsurfer FC HBA Manager software. To configure and manage the MSA1000, we installed HP’s Insight Manager and Array Configuration Utility (ACU). In addition, we needed four Fibre Channel cables and four small-form-factor pluggable (SFP) connectors for the switch-one cable and connector for each server and two cables and connectors for the MSA1000.

In the second SAN, we used the HP StorageWorks MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit. This bundled configuration includes the MSA1000, an HP StorageWorks SAN Switch 2/8q (QLogic’s SANbox 3050); two HP StorageWorks Q200 Fibre Channel HBAs (QLogic’s SANBlade QLA200s); four fiber-optic cables; four SPF connectors; a CD with Simplicity installation and management software for the HBAs, switch, and array; and documentation for the SAN Kit.

In the first SAN, we spent about two hours installing a “trivial first SAN.” The task involved separate installations of each device, which in the case of the switch, required us to use a laptop running Windows XP to begin configuration via a Telnet session over a serial line. Once those tasks were completed and the MSA1000 had initialized the logical drive, we could access it as a local drive on the appropriate server.

Nonetheless, there is still a potential problem for the unsuspecting system administrator: Without added software, Windows Server 2003 does not handle fail-over very well. That problem only arises if the SAN fabric topology has been configured for fault tolerance. If the array has been configured with two controllers-as in our setup-or multiple connections between HBAs and the switch exist for a server, then each logical drive will appear multiple times: once for every path. This creates two distinct problems for a system administrator running Windows Server.

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SANsurfer Express provides a complete end-to-end SAN management environment. With the HP Hardware Provider for the MSA1000, all of the functionality of ACU to provision storage can be harnessed by SANsurfer Express. SANsurfer Express, however, can take the process through to the formatting of the drive on the server. What’s more, the software provides a complete map of the SAN’s devices, which can be configured and managed by clicking on the graphical representation on the map. In addition, the QLogic HBA driver can be upgraded to provide transparent fault tolerance.

The first problem arises when Windows first discovers the multiple drives. The operating system assumes each drive is independent and accessible. As a result, it is possible to allocate and format over the drive for each existing path. This issue lasts only until the first reboot of the server. Once the server is rebooted, the multi-path images of the drive will still be visible, but will no longer be accessible.

The second problem relates to fail-over and those visible, but not accessible, drives. Should an array controller, fiber-optic cable, or server HBA fail, this event should be transparent to the user: It is not. Once again, Windows Server 2003 will need to be rebooted to enable one of the remaining active paths to replace the failed path-unless, of course, Windows Server has been augmented with software that can handle a multi-pathed device.

We now turned to the HP Small Business SAN Kit, the first complete end-to-end packaged SAN. A single box contains the HBAs, connectors, switch, storage array, and software to build a fully functional SAN fabric.

HP touts the SAN Kit as being “designed to reduce the complexity, expense, and risk of SAN deployment.” With a single CD, the idea of the SAN Kit is to unify and streamline the installation process with a series of rapid-fire wizards that go from out-of-the-box hardware to formatting local server drives. All of this is designed to assuage the big impediment to SAN adoption: fear of complexity.

To demonstrate the automatic fail-over in a fully redundant SAN fabric, we installed both of the HP StorageWorks Q200 HBAs in one of our servers, which was dubbed Simplicity-1. We then plugged the StorageWorks SAN Switch 2/8q into our Ethernet switch. Next, we connected the Fibre Channel cables into the HBAs, MSA1000 Storage Array, and the SAN Switch 2/8q. Then we powered on all of the equipment.

When the server booted up and launched the “Found New Hardware Wizard” for the Q200 HBA, we canceled the wizard and inserted the HP StorageWorks Small Business SAN CD. The CD automatically launched the HBA driver installation wizard.

Once the HBA drivers were installed, the next installation wizard launches the HP StorageWorks VDS Hardware provider for MSA. This process installs the HP MultiPath I/O Hardware Provider for the MSA1000 and the QLogic SAN-surfer VDS Manager. Once this software has been installed, the server must be rebooted in order for the new VDS component-which detects, configures, and manages storage LUNs-to become fully functional within the Windows VDS framework.

With all of the drivers successfully loaded, it is now possible to view the entire SAN from the server. This is precisely what is tested when the server comes up after the reboot. When the system is back up, the “Attach Server” window appears and displays a “Show SAN” button. Clicking on that button will display a hierarchical view of the SAN from the perspective of the current server. For our server, Simplicity-1, the two HBAs were listed and each HBA was shown to be connected to both of the MSA’s controller ports. Each of these connections was automatically assigned to the MSA1000 array as LUN0. This is critical for Windows since every chain of LUNs must begin with 0 for Windows to recognize the drives.

The installation script now begins the installation of SANsurfer Express. The first module to be installed is the HP StorageWorks Switch Manager, which will discover any QLogic Fibre Channel switch and will automatically assign it a temporary address. The administrator can then assign the switch any permanent address.

The next decision to be made is whether to use ACU or SANsurfer Express to manage storage LUNs. That choice must be SANSurfer Express to fully benefit from the integration of Windows VDS Framework with SANsurfer VDS Manager and the HP MultiPath I/O Hardware Provider. By making this choice, all SAN components, including HBAs, switches, and VDS-compatible storage arrays, will be manageable through one interface.

Upon selection as the SAN configuration tool of choice, SANsurfer Express begins taking an inventory of all of the devices that it can find in the SAN fabric.

As soon as SANSurfer Express completes its inventory, the user is presented with a connection map of the SAN fabric. This view is the heart of the QLogic SANsurfer VDS Manager and underpins all interaction with SANsurfer Express. An administrator can invoke the wizards by clicking on their icons at the top of the screen or call up the administrative functions for a device by clicking on any device in the map.

On the first presentation of the map, SANsurfer Express launches its “Configure a SAN” wizard, which displays a conceptual overview for the first-time SAN administrator, who is prompted to launch the “Create New Logical Disk” wizard. If a storage pool is not available, this wizard first calls the storage pool wizard that is functionally equivalent to that of the array allocation wizard in ACU.

Once a storage pool is defined, the logical disk wizard continues with questions about the logical disk’s geometry and to which servers (HBAs) the disk will be made available.

At this point, we had entered all of the same data that we had entered with ACU. The difference was we did it faster and in a more automated fashion. Nonetheless, SANsurfer Express was not finished. The tight integration of HBA software and Windows Server VDS enables SANsurfer Express to provide a true end-to-end installation experience.

SANsurfer Express allows the administrator to partition and format the logical disk at the Windows level. What’s more, the SANsurfer Express interface knows about multi-path I/O. As a result, we were presented with one, rather than four, logical disks to configure. More importantly, in less than 45 minutes we had a functioning SAN featuring transparent fail-over that was built around servers running Windows Server 2003.

Jack Fegreus is technology director at Strategic Communications (www.stratcomm.com). He can be reached at jfegreus@stratcomm.info.


InfoStor Labs scenario

UNDER EXAMINATION

SAN Kit for small businesses

WHAT WE TESTED

HP StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000 Small Business SAN Kit

  • Two HP StorageWorks Q200 Fibre Channel HBAs (QLogic QLA200s)
    • 2Gbps Fibre Channel
    • 133MHz 32-bit PCI-X support
    • Enhanced ease of use
    • Windows and Linux support
  • HP 2/8q Fibre Channel switch (QLogic 3050)
    • 8-port, 2Gbps
    • Self-tests on power up
    • Four hot-pluggable SFP connectors
  • HP Small Business SAN Installation Wizard (QLogic SANsurfer Express)
    • Point-and-click wizards
    • Simple device management
    • CD and instructions included

HOW WE TESTED

  • Two HP ML370 G2 Servers
  • Two QLogic QLA2340 HBAs
  • HP StorageWorks SAN Switch 2/16 (Brocade SilkWorm 3800)
  • Windows Server 2003

KEY FINDINGS

  • Wizards provide end-to-end configuration and management.
  • Full installation and configuration of a SAN including disk virtualization in less than 45 minutes.
  • QLogic VDS Manager integrates with Windows Server 2003 to provide Multi-path I/O and enables transparent SAN fail-over.
  • SANsurfer Express provides full device management from a graphical map of the SAN fabric.


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