A dynamic four-tier storage design


A comprehensive revamping of the storage environment at a major government agency shows how a tiered storage

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design can help meet operational expectations without busting the budget.

By Herb Ferguson

Vendors work very hard to make the choice of a multitier, enterprise-class storage system an easy one for you. But in the real world, it's not so easy. A multitier, enterprise-class system needs a high level of scalability, and its different tiers need to serve the needs of various applications and databases. It's a substantial long-term investment, and it takes exhaustive planning and research to choose the right one. Perhaps a more fundamental question than which vendor's products to buy is whether to take the integrated, single-vendor approach or to build a system around the components that are most critical to your environment.

In March 2007, InfoPro Corp. was asked to guide a large government agency through such a storage system purchasing decision -- upgrading from entry- and workgroup-level storage to an enterprise-class storage subsystem with a much higher capacity and the ability to scale beyond 1 petabyte (1 PB). The task was a tall one, given customer requirements and budgetary constraints.

The agency's existing environment was quite complex. There were numerous networks and approximately 75 servers (90% Sun Microsystems Inc. hardware) running Solaris, Linux and Windows operating systems with a wide range of business applications and databases, from product lifecycle management to document management apps. The environment was separated into loosely coupled sections that corresponded to the customer's business functions, for instance, production, staging and development. Each section had its own set of server and storage constraints; the production section required the highest uptime availability, whereas other sections had less stringent requirements. As for existing storage equipment, there were seven direct-attached SCSI- and Fibre Channel (FC)-based storage arrays from different vendors, each 1 TB to 3 TB in capacity, for a total capacity of 8 TB to 14 TB; there were also two Sun StorageTek L20 tape backup units.

In the year before InfoPro was called in on the project, the agency's user accounts and storage utilization rates were increasing at an alarming rate -- utilization went from 3.9 TB in January 2006 to 12 TB in May 2007, threatening to exceed available workgroup storage by the end of the year. There was an urgent need to get the upgrade completed as soon as possible.

There was also considerable pressure to select the right system for the agency's particular needs. Choosing the wrong one can make storage management a living hell and lead to project failures. To make the right choice, an in-depth investigation of the agency's requirements was needed, along with an analysis of available products, features and costs.

This was first published in May 2009

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