Case studies: Why SMBs are embracing iSCSI SANs

By Kevin Komiega

—When it comes to networked storage, total cost sits atop the list of buying criteria for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), followed closely by simplicity, product support, and, in some cases, the physical size of the solution, as shown in the following case studies.

Although he doesn't suit up for games, Tod Caflisch is part of the team when it comes to helping the San Antonio Spurs in their chase for the NBA title.

"Keeping the players and the team together is the number-one priority for the organization, but everywhere I can save a dollar really helps the success of the team. My contribution is to be as efficient as I can by keeping IT costs as low as possible," says Caflisch, who is director of IT for the San Antonio Spurs, and Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

That's why Fibre Channel storage was out of the running in the first round of his evaluation process for a new storage solution.

"What knocked Fibre Channel out was the sheer cost," says Caflisch. "It would be nice to have a big, fast system and just press the start button and walk away, but we have an obligation of fiscal responsibility to our ownership group."

The Spurs' franchise depends on Microsoft SQL Server, Exchange, and applications such as ADP payroll and a Bortz sports inventory management application to maintain fan, player, and ticketing data. This means backups are critical to the franchise's administrative success.

A little less than two years ago, the Spurs began looking for an up-to-date storage solution that was easy to manage and could accommodate moderate data growth. At that time, Caflisch was managing a collection of Windows file servers and DLT tape libraries. "It was taking us 12 hours to back up our e-mail server, and a complete backup was taking the course of a weekend to complete," he says.

After talking to some of his peers, Caflisch decided on an iSCSI-based IP SAN solution based on hardware and software from StoneFly, a subsidiary of Dynamic Network Factory (DNF). The configuration includes the StoneFly Backup Advantage (SBA) disk-to-disk (D2D) backup package.

The IP SAN and D2D backup solution slashed backup times from two days to about three hours, and reduced restore time to a matter of minutes. (The previous approach relied on DLT tape drives and Veritas Backup Exec software.) The Spurs use CommVault's Galaxy backup software in conjunction with StoneFly's D2D configuration.

Getting schooled
Whether you're an NBA franchise or a small school, real estate in the data center is at a premium. But some small organizations have to be even more conscious of the size of their IT footprint. This is especially true when your data center is confined to a closet in a kindergarten classroom.

Charles Love is the director of IT for St. John's Episcopal School in Tampa, FL, and space in the school's "server room" was a top consideration when it came time to deploy additional storage to support Microsoft Exchange and file-serving applications.

Given its size, St. John's relies on a lot of donated equipment to meet its IT needs, and its 200GB of data was in one proverbial basket. "Everything was stored on server disk. Our storage isn't growing out of control, but we were getting low on space," says Love.

Fibre Channel was out of the running for the obvious reasons. "One was cost, and two was size. Fibre Channel arrays alone usually take up four-to-five units of rack space," explains Love.

St. John's purchased a Hewlett-Packard All-in-One (AiO) disk array, which is designed for managing storage in Microsoft environments and includes point-and-click tools for working with Exchange and SQL Server. The AiO, which is about the size of a pizza box, also includes a full version of HP's StorageWorks Data Protector Express Software for backup and recovery.

HP's AiO systems are based on Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 and Serial ATA (SATA) and/or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disk drives and support iSCSI and NAS (CIFS and NFS)

In addition to low cost, Love also based his decision on system management functionality. "The system has proven to be an extremely simple, low-cost solution to help us manage our growing storage needs," says Love.

Museum opts for iSCSI
Drive about two hours north of St. John's, and you will find that the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, located on the campus at the University of Florida in Gainesville, is also using iSCSI SAN technology to support its critical applications.

"We're a relatively small museum, but we were experiencing growing pains," says Dwight Bailey, the museum's director of technology.

The museum features paintings, sculpture, and photographic works from across Asia and Africa and plans to digitize its collections in the future. When Bailey began researching his storage options, his goal was to find a solution that would solve his current capacity issues and meet his long-term storage requirements.

"We considered Fibre Channel, but did not see a reason to evaluate it because it meant purchasing additional products right off the bat and increasing the overall cost of the solution," says Bailey. In addition, upgrading his existing network and hardware to accommodate Fibre Channel was not an appealing prospect.

The museum opted for EMC's Clariion AX150i iSCSI storage platform. The AX150i includes up to 12 SATA drives (250GB or 500GB) in a 2U rack-mountable enclosure. A single AX150i array provides capacities up to 6TB.

Bailey suggests potential users take the time to evaluate all of their software options when they are buying into the world of iSCSI-based IP SANs. "Thoroughly evaluate the software and make sure it will work for the long term. Some of the complimentary software that comes with the hardware, or is available as an add-on, can facilitate your business," says Bailey. "And test the software before you buy so you see if it's powerful enough and whether it meets your business needs."

One tool Bailey finds helpful for capacity planning and developing future storage strategies is EMC's VisualSRM, a monitoring and reporting application that helps track capacity utilization rates and provides details about data at the file level. "Using VisualSRM helps us account for how the unit is being used," he says.

The Samuel P. Harn Museum is now looking ahead to using more software features, such as replication and virtualization services.

Also check out our White Pages library entries in our iSCSI and IP SANs section.

This article was originally published on January 25, 2007