Why users are adopting IP Storage

Posted on May 01, 2006

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Among the driving forces are storage consolidation, simplified data protection, affordable disaster recovery, and improved data management.

By David Dale

Over the past year, IT organizations accelerated their adoption of IP Storage solutions as the technology entered the mainstream. The increasing number of customer references and broader platform support are further accelerating the rate of deployment.

This article summarizes the IP Storage market, presents end-user case studies, and looks at future developments.

Last year, virtually all of the leading server and storage vendors released IP Storage products, and IT organizations installed IP SANs to consolidate storage and to simplify and reduce the costs associated with storage management in business-critical application environments.

The IP Storage market grew from an estimated 2,500 IP SAN deployments in 2004 to an estimated 10,000 IP SANs by the end of last year. And the market is expected to continue to expand as iSCSI-based SANs replace direct-attached storage (DAS) in Windows environments, and as affordable IP SANs become available for other operating system environments.

Factors driving this growth include the continuing need for IT organizations to do more with less- less capital cost, fewer administrators per terabyte, less complexity-coupled with ongoing data growth, legislation requiring strict data-retention practices, and the recognition that even tier 2 applications are mission-critical in today’s 24x7 world. These factors affect enterprises of every size, and most IT managers recognize that DAS architectures simply cannot meet the needs of today’s business environment.

Most IP SAN deployments to date have been in Windows environments with small and medium-sized servers and limited admin support, where host-attachment costs and complexity have inhibited deployment of Fibre Channel SANs. IP SANs are also popular where multiple data centers need to be affordably interconnected and the management of corporate data needs to be integrated. Initial IP SAN deployments were often at the departmental level of larger enterprises. However, as the following examples show, IP SANs have now spread to include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

DAS replacement

One of the emerging sweet spots for IP Storage is as a replacement for DAS in medium-sized organizations. Typically, rapid data growth, data availability concerns, the need to more efficiently manage the storage environment with existing resources, and limited IT budgets are the major end-user concerns. The following two case studies illustrate these points.

SHILOH INDUSTRIES - EQUALLOGIC

Shiloh Industries is a leading supplier to the automotive industry. The company needed to implement better data protection and disaster recovery for multiple locations, manage storage growth, check tape proliferation, and reduce server replacement costs. With 30 servers running various operating systems and applications, the only way to protect data was to do daily full backups on each server.

Shiloh decided to go with an iSCSI SAN in a virtualized infrastructure. The company created a flexible infrastructure with an EqualLogic IP SAN supporting a VMware virtual server environment. With VMware, Shiloh runs its applications on 30 virtual servers hosted on five physical servers, each with high-performance access to the EqualLogic iSCSI SAN.

To date, Shiloh has installed two EqualLogic PS200Es at the primary data center, a PS100E in its Michigan plant, and one PS300E at a disaster-recovery site in Brunswick, OH.

VESTIGE LTD. - ALACRITECH

Vestige Ltd., based in Cleveland, provides computer forensic and electronic discovery services for use in civil litigation, law enforcement, criminal proceedings, and corporate policy administration. During a forensics investigation, Vestige’s analysis team collects and analyzes large amounts of data. Previously, its computer forensics lab was based on a DAS infrastructure with disparate servers, each running separate forensic software applications and tools.

Vestige needed to replace its DAS with a cost-effective networked storage solution that would enable the company to centralize and more easily manage storage; speed transfers of block data across the network; support easy sharing of large amounts of data in a distributed environment without performance degradation; and increase workstation performance by offloading IP storage processing from the CPUs so that they could focus on data analysis. 

Vestige installed Alacritech’s SES1001T iSCSI Accelerators in its workstations running DataPlow SAN File System software and connected them to Promise Technology’s VTrak storage subsystems. In addition to other benefits, the new IP SAN reduces the time, effort, and costs associated with working with large, read-intensive data sets. Forensic analysts can now provide critical information faster, and the performance in their distributed environment enables them to analyze data from multiple cases simultaneously.

IP SANs for SMBs

As IP Storage becomes a viable SAN solution for Windows server environments, there has been increased adoption of iSCSI to replace DAS in SMBs. In the following two case studies, rapid growth was the main issue in one instance, while storage consolidation for SQL servers was a primary driver in the other example.

JUNIOR BLIND OF AMERICA - WASABI SYSTEMS

Junior Blind of America (JBA) offers recreational services for blind or visually impaired children. JBA supplies services to more than 6,000 individuals each year from California and neighboring states through six programs that provide education, recreation, training, and rehabilitation.

To support their ongoing efforts, Junior Blind of America relies on an extensive IT infrastructure that encompasses many application servers as well as Exchange and general file and printing services. JBA’s fundraising efforts are based on a Microsoft SQL application that is responsible for handling donations, financial transactions, and mass mailings. Due to the constant growth of the SQL database, it became apparent that JBA needed a simple and inexpensive storage upgrade. The database had been stored on hard drives installed inside the SQL server chassis, and the process of adding capacity was disruptive and non-scalable.

JBA contacted Variel Technology, a provider of integrated server and storage solutions in southern California. “After analyzing Junior Blind of America’s storage needs and budget, we realized the answer to their dilemma was an IP SAN,” says Ali Asvadi, Variel Technology’s president. Variel recommended an IP SAN based on Wasabi Systems’ Storage Builder for iSCSI software.

The IP SAN was installed during a lunch break without interruption to JBA’s production systems. Once the SQL application was re-initialized, none of the staff even realized that the entire SQL database was now on an external storage device. JBA’s Linda Falcone says, “The IP SAN allowed us to leverage our existing Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure, quickly and easily integrate into our existing Intel-based Windows 2003 servers and, most importantly, we had more money available for our programs.”

FOWLER CONTRACTING - LEFTHAND NETWORKS

Fowler Contracting, a turnkey site development and construction company in Cary, NC, has been one of the fastest growing private companies in the Research Triangle for the last three years. Consequently, their storage requirements have multiplied at a rapid pace.

With all of Fowler’s storage being housed on stand-alone servers, administration was becoming cumbersome and data reliability questionable. And with the company’s rate of growth, Fowler knew that it needed more flexibility for expansion without risk of downtime. In addition, the company had two rooms full of files that needed to be converted to electronic media. Once this was complete, the HR and accounting staffs would require fast and reliable access to that data.

An IP SAN consisting of two LeftHand Network Storage Modules (NSMs) was implemented, consolidating seven servers across three locations and adding 1.6TB of capacity. Critical applications such as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, Fowler’s bidding software package, accounting applications, and automated maintenance records for construction equipment were all migrated to the LeftHand SAN. In addition, the CAD files used in digital terrain modeling for construction sites were migrated for live access. The entire installation process, including data migration, took only four hours.

For Fowler, advanced provisioning is an important component of the solution. The centralized backup process is another area where there has been significant time-savings.

“We used to spend 10 hours for backup, and that has been reduced by 80% with the IP SAN,” says Scott Bowen, Fowler’s IT manager. The ability to manage all of its locations from headquarters was another significant advantage. Bowen anticipates purchasing two additional NSMs and using remote copy for a full disaster-recovery plan in the near future. This second system will be housed at Fowler’s Raleigh, NC, location for complete redundancy in the event of an emergency.

FC SAN replacement

Although most IP SANs replace DAS configurations, IP SANs sometimes replace first-generation (1Gbps) Fibre Channel SANs. In these cases, the SAN is typically approaching the end of its lifecycle, and the company needs a more cost- effective solution requiring less admin support and doesn’t require the performance of a 2Gbps or 4Gbps Fibre Channel SAN. Here are two examples:

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN - INSTRANSA

The University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and Arts (LS&A) is an academic and research institution in Ann Arbor. More than 20,000 students, faculty, and administrators from 70 departments collaborate on research projects, generating mountains of data. Since the University is a public institution, the IT staff operates on a tight budget and must support researchers’ storage needs with reliable but inexpensive storage.

The data accumulated needed to be managed and protected at all times. Unfortunately, reliable data protection was not always in the College of LS&A’s budget. Researchers would buy cheap off- the-shelf storage for their data needs and divert their meager budget to other more mission-critical research expenditures. As a result, data (and thousands of hours of research) would be lost when the cheap disks eventually broke down.

Tim Rolston, Windows systems manager for the College of LS&A, finally decided that he didn’t want to hear any more stories about lost data. He started looking into inexpensive alternatives that could provide reliable storage that could be managed and backed up centrally by his staff. He wanted to create a storage pool that could be accessed and provisioned seamlessly across the college whenever resources were needed.

The college deployed an IP SAN from Intransa that gives the IT staff the ability to seamlessly provision storage resources to researchers on demand. Now, researchers are able to add storage capacity themselves when they need it. End users simply log onto the network, carve out the required capacity, name it, and start using it. The process takes minutes, whereas it used to take days-or even weeks- for Rolston to provision storage resources from his Fibre Channel SAN.

SOUTHCENTRAL FOUNDATION - NETWORK APPLIANCE

Southcentral Foundation (SCF) is an Alaskan Native-owned healthcare organization that replaced a costly Fibre Channel SAN with an IP-based solution to support rapid data growth, the integration of multiple facilities, and a new disaster-recovery initiative. With the Fibre Channel SAN, the foundation experienced lengthy backups and data restores, which didn’t meet critical time-to-recovery objectives and was expensive to deploy and support.

In seeking a more cost-effective SAN, while also searching for software to increase data protection, SCF evaluated a variety of offerings before standardizing on a Network Appliance IP SAN with BakBone’s NetVault: Backup software. The combination delivers the high levels of data protection and business continuity that SCF required. With its combined NetApp and BakBone iSCSI deployment, SCF is positioned to meet aggressive data growth, which has increased to 8TB of critical data.

The IP SAN handles SCF’s heavy-data loads and required no modifications to the foundation’s existing Cisco infrastructure. BakBone’s backup-and-recovery software simplifies configuration and management of data stored on multiple NetApp and open systems platforms. SCF’s IP SAN supports 60 Windows servers, 90% of which are virtualized using VMware; a 1,400-mailbox Exchange server; a Microsoft SQL Server system with 47 databases, and a Sybase dental records and imaging database.

The benefits of the iSCSI-based solution include capital and administrative cost savings, accelerated disk-based backups and restores, improved disaster recovery, and faster implementation of new services.

FC SAN complement

Many companies have large and proven Fibre Channel SAN environments, but they may still have a lot of smaller “stranded” servers each with its own internal or DAS. There are clear advantages in being able to leverage the existing SAN investment if an affordable way to connect these servers into the SAN can be found. The following shows how users can use IP Storage to accomplish this:

SPOKANE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT - Sanrad

The recent deployment of Sanrad’s V-Switch is providing significant cost savings while responding to growing storage capacity demands in the Spokane Public School District in Spokane, WA. The school district is the city’s largest employer, encompassing more than 3,000 teachers and a network of more than 10,000 computers, as well as an extensive Fibre Channel SAN. Because of its size, it faced challenges similar to those that many large organizations confront.

First they needed increased storage capacity on the existing Fibre Channel SAN and had to significantly reduce the total cost of ownership on the SAN infrastructure. Lead network administrator Kevin Mount explains: “We had teachers requesting terabytes of storage space just for themselves, but we knew we couldn’t continue to keep adding servers to our Fibre Channel SAN. The HBA [host bus adapter] costs alone were killing us.”

A second challenge concerned the need to easily manage the lifecycle of data, as well as to protect that data according to its inherent value and either archive or retire it when appropriate. A third challenge concerned the need to share and control access to the storage pool. Mount knew that he could find cheaper Fibre Channel SAN solutions, but believed a move to an iSCSI-based solution would prove more cost-effective over the long run, as well as provide other benefits. Besides cost, virtualization capabilities were the most important criteria. Spokane chose Sanrad’s V-Switch 3000 iSCSI switch.

According to Mount, “We are now able to utilize our storage space more effectively, and network storage costs have sunk to one-tenth of what they were prior to the IP SAN implementation.”

What’s next for IP Storage?

There are still large amounts of DAS in IT environments of all sizes. IP SAN solutions will enable conversion of these architectures to networked storage environments. In addition, new capabilities will further expand the reach of IP Storage solutions. Examples include the following:

Native iSCSI solutions for Unix and Linux, such as multi-pathing and host clustering features, will drive iSCSI into heterogeneous environments;

Boot-from-SAN solutions driven by the availability of software from Microsoft and other vendors will drive growth of IP SAN solutions in high-density configurations and blade-server environments; and

The emergence of storage systems with 10Gbps Ethernet connections will drive IP SANs into high-performance and large-scale aggregated storage environments.

International Data Corp. (IDC) predicts a 211% compound annual growth for the iSCSI market through 2009 period, when the market is expected to reach $2.65 billion.

Conclusion

As these sample case studies illustrate, IP Storage is beginning to enter the IT mainstream. Solutions are available from a variety of vendors to extend and complement existing networked storage environments. The emergence of these low-cost iSCSI solutions means that IT professionals now have SAN options for a broader range of environments. Storage consolidation, simplified data protection, affordable disaster recovery, and improved data management are some of the key drivers behind iSCSI adoption.

David Dale is the chair of SNIA’s IP Storage Forum, and an industry evangelist at Network Appliance. For more information on the IP Storage Forum, visit www.ipstorage.org.

Acknowledgments

This article is based on case studies supplied by the following Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) IP Storage Forum members: Alacritech, EqualLogic, Intransa, LeftHand Networks, Network Appliance, Sanrad, and Wasabi.

Originally published on .

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