The case for 'storage network appliances'

By Robert Woolery

Simplified management and increased performance are catalysts for reducing total cost of ownership.

One of the biggest IT challenges is managing information. Solving the problems of information delivery by adding more hardware, software, and personnel is like swimming through a tidal wave: You're going to drown.

IT professionals require a more sustainable solution. Faced with the dizzying array of claims that promise much but add to an already complex environment, IT managers are looking for technology that makes operating storage easier and simpler, in part by automating tasks.

The evolution of the networking market necessitated purpose-built routers and switches, and the evolution of the storage networking market is necessitating new platforms that meet performance, availability, scalability, and ease-of-management requirements. These platforms are sometimes referred to as storage network appliances.

Appliances can enable the promise of storage networks—cost-effective scalability, easier storage management, and acceleration of application I/O performance. While there are differing views on what a storage network appliance entails, there are several key features that an appliance can deliver.

For ease of installation, ease of management, and application scaling, the storage network appliance should be a plug-and-play device that simplifies information management while accelerating application performance, which reduces total cost of ownership (TCO) and increases return on investment (ROI). Appliances should also integrate seamlessly with legacy storage devices, while providing a path to scalable storage capacity and virtualized storage pools.

Storage network appliances can enable IT professionals to solve problems ranging from storage consolidation and backup acceleration to simplified storage management and increased application productivity. Below are a few examples of how appliances are solving specific storage problems.

Application acceleration
The pre-press industry is characterized by a large investment in machinery. The IT infrastructure in a pre-press environment must be highly dependable, allowing access to images quickly and efficiently so that the presses keep operating at peak performance.

Schumann Printers specializes in short-run, special-interest publications. Keeping the presses running is a necessity, since lost press time is lost money. Fault tolerance and maintaining quality of service (QoS) performance from all components involved in the workflow are key.

Schumann's workflow has widely varying types of data access, ranging from simple copy operations and small I/O file-server accesses to large sequential file writes and heavy file analysis using small transfers.

Because optimizing a storage area network (SAN) for many different kinds of simultaneous data access is challenging, Schumann decided that the initial focus would be on stability. The company's data was migrated from its first-generation Fibre Channel products to an S2A 6000 storage network appliance. All traditional SAN components such as switches and RAID controllers were removed, storage added and configured, and network and applications optimized. When operators began work the next day, the systems were fully operational.

Prior to the implementation of storage network appliances, a typical day at Schumann would see 300 proofs traverse the pre-press workflow. With a storage appliance at the heart of its operations, Schumann now generates more than 1,800 proofs per day—a 6x productivity improvement.

Jack Schumann, owner of Schumann Printers, says the ability to achieve a 600% productivity gain allowed his company to expand its business to meet future demand—without increasing staff. The storage network appliance also provided Schumann with better reliability, which increased the productivity of employees and presses. In addition, performance was increased, allowing a far greater volume of work per day to be processed for print.

Storage consolidation
Sandia National Laboratories is a research and development facility with ongoing projects in national security, energy, and environmental technologies. Sandia is developing a large, scalable storage facility to handle the output from multi-teraflop scientific computers. To meet increasing data-availability demands, Sandia turned to storage network appliances to consolidate its storage and accelerate visualization and rendering work that results from applications that simulate, analyze, and predict performance of nuclear weapons.

According to Sandia's project manager Milton Clauser, one of the primary goals was the ability to easily handle large datasets at very high I/O rates for consolidated storage pools.

Sandia installed appliances that each deliver an aggregate bandwidth of up to 800MBps and support for as many as 512 servers and 180TB of storage. The appliances allowed Sandia to consolidate storage and deploy massive clusters to achieve substantial performance gains over earlier, more-expensive technologies. Sandia installed six storage network appliances with 33TB for production use with existing computer systems and for development of new data services for future—even larger—computer systems.

The potential benefits of storage network appliances include better cost of ownership, easier management, and higher performance. Additional benefits can include storage consolidation, file sharing, accelerated backup and restore, and increased application productivity. Appliances can also enhance switched fabrics by reducing performance impediments due to switching latency and contention, while mitigating hard costs incurred by cascaded fabrics. It is through a combination of simplified management and increased performance that appliances can provide the catalyst to reduce TCO and increase ROI for IT professionals.

Robert Woolery is vice president of corporate development for DataDirect Networks (www.datadirectnet.com) in Chatsworth, CA, and can be reached at rwoolery@datadirectnet.com.

This article was originally published on June 01, 2002