IP Storage addresses diverse applications

Posted on March 01, 2005

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End users are taking advantage of IP SANs to inexpensively solve storage problems in companies of all sizes.

By David Dale

This past year, IT organizations have accelerated their adoption of IP Storage solutions in a variety of mainstream IT production environments. In fact, analysts report that there were more than 2,500 IP Storage deployments at the end of 2004.

This article presents a number of case studies to highlight the advantages of IP SANs in a variety of applications categories.

FC SAN bridging for medium/large organizations

SAN bridging using IP Storage protocols is not limited to very large enterprises, as exemplified in the following deployment. This implementation was driven by regulatory compliance requirements in the banking industry.

BNG - McDATA

In order to maintain its AAA rating, BNG, like every bank in the Netherlands, is required by law to have adequate programs and processes in place to handle outages. In addition, to meet its own business requirements, BNG needed to implement a disaster-recovery plan that could have the bank up and running within six hours, with minimal data loss, in the event of an outage. Moreover, the bank needed to upgrade its data-protection capabilities, as backups of its money transfer applications were exceeding prescribed windows.

By implementing McData’s multi-protocol Eclipse SAN routers-which support Fibre Channel, Ethernet, iSCSI, and the iFCP protocol-BNG was able to meet government-enforced disaster-recovery regulatory requirements. The bank was also able to increase operational efficiencies by simplifying network management and reducing backup times by as much as 60%.

The bank performed its yearly disaster-recovery test last October, and BNG officials report that the SAN infrastructure was available within three hours, whereas the legacy infrastructure without a SAN connection took six hours to be available because of lengthy restore times.

Bank officials also report a dramatic improvement in service levels as a result of implementing SAN bridging via IP Storage protocols.

FC SAN bridging for backup consolidation

Centralization and consolidation of corporate backup resources is also becoming a popular application for IP Storage bridging solutions, as illustrated in the next two examples.

CREDIT CARD PROCESSING/BILLING OUTSOURCER - CNT

At a medium/large US credit card processing company, the IT environment consists of three sites that send data to a main data center. The company faced data-retention requirements. Both its mainframe and open systems environments used tape vaulting for long-term retention. The company needed to move both environments into one central location to meet compliance regulations.

The IP Storage solution has two key aspects. First, the open systems environment includes mixed backup applications: Veritas NetBackup and Tivoli Storage Manager. The backups are first sent to EMC Virtual Disk Libraries and then sent to tape. By leveraging CNT’s UltraNet Edge Storage Routers, the company is able to use tape streaming for long-distance, IP-based replication, while saving costs by using the routers’ built-in IP compression capabilities. Second, the mainframe environment uses CNT’s UltraNet routers with FICON in emulation mode for the tape application, and IBM’s Virtual Tape System to store and replicate between sites. Both of these deployments use full fabric integration and provide server-to-network fail-over for fabric routing.

The CNT solution allows the company to meet data-retention requirements by using tape streaming for both the mainframe and open systems environments. The solution also features Fibre Channel switch interoperability (Cisco to McData). In addition, the configuration lets the company use its bandwidth more efficiently through the built-in IP compression capabilities.

CABLE & WIRELESS - FALCONSTOR

Cable & Wireless’ storage environment consisted of direct-attached storage (DAS) and isolated SANs, with one StorageTek L180 tape library storing all backups in the allotted backup window. Numerous servers with local storage left the telecommunications company vulnerable to incomplete backups and potential data loss. With a data growth rate that was doubling each year, Cable & Wireless needed a solution to streamline its storage environment while laying the groundwork to achieve objectives for centralized storage management, high availability, and business continuity.

“The previous storage infrastructure became chaotic and was a management drain for our IT staff,” says Juan Miguel Poyatos, C&W’s southern region general manager. “FalconStor’s IPStor has alleviated the burden on our IT administrators by leveraging our existing resources and expertise, and by pooling and provisioning storage capacity according to specific needs, while centralizing our storage management.”

The telecommunications company uses IPStor to provision storage to a multi-platform SAN environment that includes Windows, Linux, and Solaris servers. Cable & Wireless plans to leverage FalconStor’s Virtual Tape Library to consolidate the management of backup resources while enhancing the reliability of backup operations and accelerating the speed of data recovery, as well as to perform remote replication between two data centers for additional data protection.

IP SANs for data protection and low-cost disaster recovery

Data protection and disaster recovery are not restricted to SAN bridging solutions; they are also primary applications for pure IP SANs (iSCSI in a Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure), as indicated below.

WESTERN STATES INSURANCE- LEFTHAND NETWORKS

A wholly owned subsidiary of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Montana, Western States Insurance (WSI) is a large insurance agency and employee benefits broker.

Timely and cost-efficient backup is critical for companies like WSI, because every time an existing insurance agency is acquired, WSI must integrate customer data and years of historical records. This requires extensive data backup and restoration, which typically took four to five days. WSI had undergone this process seven times in 24 months, which equals an entire month of productivity.

WSI needed to upgrade its DAS environment to provide redundancy and data protection across locations and to incorporate a disaster-recovery plan for its 26 remote offices. The company evaluated several networked storage and backup solutions but most were complex and cost-prohibitive.


A native IP Storage SAN based on iSCSI does not require bridging devices.
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An IP SAN from LeftHand Networks addressed WSI’s backup-and-recovery challenges. In less than 24 hours, WSI deployed 3TB of storage across two data centers as part of a disaster-recovery initiative.

WSI has since significantly reduced the time spent backing up its CRM database and restoring data to alternate locations for testing and integration development. Before the LeftHand IP SAN was deployed, data protection depended on manual tape backups, a “failure-prone” process. Now, WSI has two disaster-recovery sites, and through centralized management one system administrator can easily supervise all 26 locations.

WSI estimates it has saved $50,000 per year by choosing an IP SAN over a Fibre Channel SAN.

IP SANs for environments Fibre Channel has not penetrated

One sweet spot for iSCSI-based IP SANs is to provide the benefits of SANs for companies where Fibre Channel is not a good fit, usually for reasons of cost, complexity, or lack of trained staff. iSCSI-based SANs often include sophisticated data-protection and disaster-recovery capabilities, including snapshots, mirroring, and long-distance replication.

PLAINS EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION - EQUALLOGIC

Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) is an independent oil and gas company that acquires, develops, exploits, and produces oil and gas properties in California, Louisiana, and Texas. Two key business issues prompted PXP to review its IT infrastructure and strategy. First, a major acquisition demonstrated that its existing architecture of stand-alone servers and DAS was insufficient for the company’s growing storage requirements. Second, PXP wanted to eliminate downtime at offshore oil platforms via remote serviceability and instant recovery from server faults.

PXP’s solution was a virtual data center built by Conxerge, a solutions provider and EqualLogic channel partner. Using blade servers and EqualLogic’s iSCSI-based PS Series storage arrays, Conxerge built a full data center in one 38U rack with integrated power, cooling, and monitoring. The compact data center consists of two EqualLogic PS Series storage arrays and 10 blade servers, plus virtualization software. Servers, storage, switching, power, and cooling are all integrated.

This configuration proved to be so successful that PXP’s IT department tried it out on an offshore oil platform. The PXP platforms that drill and process offshore are run with human-machine interface (HMI) technology. Software and program logic controllers translate physical data into computerized data viewable on-screen. These systems require maximum uptime for sustained productivity; however, many IT management tasks required downtime while IT staff made its way out to the platform by helicopter. Today, PXP has installed a smaller version of the virtual data center on one oil platform and can manage it remotely-effectively eliminating downtime.

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP -SANRAD

Cranberry Township, in Western Pennsylvania, implemented an IP SAN for the city’s main administrative departments. Cranberry Township wanted to consolidate its storage systems by implementing a storage architecture that was highly available and offered business continuance-at relatively low cost.

To achieve its storage consolidation and high-availability goals the township implemented an iSCSI SAN to replace the DAS that was limiting the township’s high-availability goals. Cranberry wanted to develop two data centers with full redundancy for both server and storage fail-over, requiring full data mirroring between the sites.

Meeting these requirements within a limited budget proved to be a challenge. A key piece of the solution was the embedded functionality of Sanrad’s iSCSI-based V-Switch. The V-Switch provided synchronous data mirroring between the two sites using dark fiber in Cranberry Township’s private network. By clustering two V-Switches and placing one at each site, data can be mirrored synchronously between the sites. The IP SAN provides active-active system fail-over, fail-back, synchronization, and multi-pathing to ensure continuous data availability.

The V-Switch combines the cost efficiency of iSCSI with onboard storage services, allowing Cranberry Township to maintain identical sets of data at both of its locations and providing server fail-over to either site in the event of a disaster.

IP SANs for high data growth environments

Rapid data growth is often the driving force behind the need to move from a DAS environment to an IP SAN. In the following examples, the combination of high data growth and cost sensitivity dictated IP Storage implementations.

T.B. PENICK - STONEFLY NETWORKS

At the San Diego-based T.B. Penick & Sons construction business, an ever-increasing need to store digital images of completed and current projects pushed an already over-burdened IT system to the breaking point. As a result, IT manager Ken Marsh installed an IP SAN from StoneFly Networks to consolidate storage.

The configuration consists of a StoneFly Storage Concentrator i2000, which includes a pair of Storage Concentrators with fail-over capabilities, redundant controllers, dual power supplies, Nexsan ATAboy2 RAID arrays, a 24-port Gigabit Ethernet switch from Dell, and six iSCSI initiators (from Microsoft and Intel). In addition, Marsh’s team installed dual active directories running ShadowCopy to take two snapshots each day of all files on the servers. Almost immediately, T.B. Penick realized the benefits of this highly reliable, consolidated storage approach.

“I no longer worry about running out of storage in the middle of a project or having to spend endless nights performing backups,” says Marsh. “Without the IP SAN, we could have spent tens of thousands of dollars re-creating work that had been lost inadvertently. Now, I can restore files in less than a minute and avoid disasters that could adversely impact both productivity and bottom-line profitability.”

“We invested nearly $30,000 in our IP SAN, and within months it has paid off for us by making it easy and fast to restore mission-critical data,” says Marsh. “In particular, we now perform disk-to-disk backups in a fraction of the time it used to take to complete a full system backup.”

IBIQUITY DIGITAL - ADAPTEC

iBiquity Digital Corp. created HD (high definition) Radio to deliver crystal-clear, pure digital audio quality from any radio station. HD Radio allows listeners to view complementary information, such as the artist name and song title, as well as stock and news information, local traffic conditions, and weather reports.

HD Radio requires a staggering amount of data. A completed file is typically 1GB to 5GB, but can be 10 times as large while it is being created, requiring massive storage capacity on iBiquity’s servers. iSCSI proved to be an economical and scalable solution to address the company’s continuous need to dynamically generate large volumes of data.

To solve the hard drive capacity issues, iBiquity leveraged iSCSI-based Snap Server 18000 appliances from Adaptec. iSCSI volumes created on the 18000 look like a local “D” drive to the servers, simplifying file creation.

In addition, the Snap Server 18000 gave iBiquity all the functionality of its previous enterprise storage system-as well as support for Windows NT, Unix, and the iSCSI protocol in one box-at one-third the cost.

IP SANs for environments with limited admin support

Not every organization has a large IT staff. And often, the decision to move to a SAN hinges on whether the existing staff can handle it.

In these cases, an IP SAN is attractive because it can be managed with existing staff and skill sets.

WILDMAN HARROLD - INTRANSA

Wildman Harrold is a law firm with more than 200 attorneys serving businesses, government entities, and individuals in a wide range of areas, including intellectual property, labor, and contract issues. The firm’s biggest IT problems were the limitations and escalating cost of its DAS environment-which required continually spending money to add more servers to get the required storage capacity, which in turn, added expenses that had very low return on investment (ROI) and increased the demand on system administration staff resources. Wildman Harrold was adding servers at an unacceptable pace due to increasing storage capacity demand. In addition, the time required to perform backups was exceeding the available backup window. The firm needed a storage system that provided quick and easy SAN deployment; compatibility with existing networks; efficient incremental storage provisioning; and faster incremental backup times.

The law firm implemented an Intransa IP SAN that includes two 3.2TB DE5200 disk enclosures, an SC5100 storage controller with two controller modules, Cisco Catalyst 6500 series Gigabit Ethernet switches, Adaptec 7211 adapter cards with TCP/IP offload engines (TOEs), and Microsoft iSCSI software initiators.

The Intransa IP SAN leverages existing Ethernet network infrastructure to provide a storage network at about one-fifth of the total cost of a Fibre Channel SAN.

Because of Intransa’s use of industry standard technologies, Wildman Harrold’s network administrators, working with DSN Group, were able to deploy and configure the storage with only minimal instruction.

IP SANs for large Exchange environments

Microsoft Exchange is one of the most popular application environments for iSCSI SANs. Rapid data growth in e-mail environments; the complexity of managing DAS on proliferating Exchange servers; the fact that Exchange is usually deployed on relatively inexpensive Intel architecture servers; and Microsoft’s comprehensive support of iSCSI have convinced many IT managers to install an IP SAN for Exchange environments, as illustrated in the following example.

BARRY UNIVERSITY - NETWORK APPLIANCE

Barry University is an international university near Miami that offers undergraduate and graduate programs for working adults. Barry’s IT department realized that the university had outgrown the DAS infrastructure it was using for Microsoft Exchange data. “As our user community took advantage of the full Exchange feature set, demand for storage exploded,” says Justin Moses, systems and messaging administrator.

“Trying to manage that increased capacity across two dozen DAS servers created unworkable administrative overhead,” he adds.


IP Storage gateways and routers can be used to link Fibre Channel SANs over IP MANs/WANs for applications such as replication and remote backup.
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Downtime had become a serious issue. “Backing up each Exchange server individually took far too long-sometimes as much as four days,” says Moses. “But the real challenge was recovery. One outage left many of our students and faculty without e-mail for three days while we worked to restore Exchange stores from tape.

With university operations dependent upon e-mail, we cannot afford to have downtime, even for 15 minutes.”

To support an upgrade to Exchange 2003 and expand capacity, the university deployed an IP SAN from Network Appliance that includes a NetApp fabric-attached storage (FAS) system configured with the iSCSI protocol, which allowed the university to use its existing IP network and expertise.

“My team estimated that a Fibre Channel SAN would have required more than $100,000 of infrastructure modifications, as well as specialized administrative training and expertise,” according to John Beaubrun, Barry University’s vice provost, dean, and chief technology officer.

The university leverages the IP SAN to host production Exchange 2003 services for more than 18,000 mailboxes. The iSCSI-based SAN also supports SQL Server databases.

Summary

As these case studies illustrate, IP Storage is becoming a mainstream storage network solution. The emergence of native IP SANs using iSCSI means that IT professionals now have SAN architectures for a much broader range of environments at lower price points. Storage consolidation, simplified data protection, affordable disaster recovery, and improved data management are the key drivers behind IP Storage deployments.

David Dale is chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association’s IP Storage Forum (www.ipstorage.org).


Debunking IP Storage myths

By David Dale
Among the early (and erroneous) notions about IP Storage, the following still occasionally resurface:

Most IP storage implementations are in large companies, linking SANs across long distances.

Although many of the deployments of IP Storage bridging protocols such as FCIP and iFCP are in very large companies, the majority are in medium/large enterprises-particularly in the financial services sector. In both cases the protocols are usually used to link SANs across long distances for consolidated backup or disaster recovery. The majority of iSCSI deployments today are also in medium-sized companies.

iSCSI is an entry-level technology for small businesses.

Today, iSCSI SANs are being deployed primarily in enterprise environments dominated by midrange and low-end servers. These servers are usually Intel architecture platforms running Windows, NetWare, or Linux, although iSCSI SANs for small RISC servers running Unix are starting to emerge. In these environments, the applications are typically departmental-level business-critical applications, although some mission-critical applications in smaller enterprises also run on these servers.

Enterprises will use iSCSI primarily to connect stranded servers to existing SANs.

Although some enterprises are using iSCSI to connect stranded servers to existing Fibre Channel SANs, the vast majority of iSCSI deployments are “pure” IP SANs (iSCSI-based SANs using Gigabit Ethernet switches and cables instead of Fibre Channel). In most cases these deployments are replacing direct-attached storage (DAS) in situations where Fibre Channel is not a viable option for cost or complexity reasons.

IP SANs are less functional than Fibre Channel SANs.

Most entry-level Fibre Channel arrays lack the sophisticated data management capabilities available with midrange and high-end arrays, such as snapshots, clones, remote mirroring, etc. However, almost all native iSCSI arrays have these capabilities built-in.

Fibre Channel will always be preferable to IP for storage networking.

For those applications that require the highest performance and availability, Fibre Channel is the best choice. But most business applications don’t fall into this category, and IP Storage is adequate for those applications. When flexibility, ease of use, and low cost are important considerations, IP Storage may be a preferable solution.


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