Feature

Multiprotocol arrays attract attention

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Storage consolidation is a rising trend, though it can be risky. Storage arrays can crash, and the more data residing on a single frame, the more damaging those crashes can become. Additionally, the more moving parts a system has, the more likely it is that mechanical problems can occur.

Yet none of that seems daunting to users who say they've benefited tremendously from new storage products that pack multiple protocols into one system, allowing for large-scale storage consolidation and management simplification. These multiprotocol systems are available from companies such as Compellent Technologies, EMC, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Network Appliance (NetApp), Nexsan Technologies and Pillar Data Systems, among others.

Michael Israel, senior VP of information services at New York City-based Six Flags Theme Parks, says his company swears by NetApp's 3000 series, which runs NAS and block-level access for iSCSI using the same OS. Each of Six Flags' 25 national amusement park locations boots commodity servers from HP off NetApp FAS3020 or FAS3050 systems, depending on operation size, and replicates data to a central data center in Grand Prairie, TX, where Israel says the company is in the process of upgrading to a FAS3070 system for increased capacity. Israel says being able to use iSCSI to boot his servers, run some SQL database applications within the same system as file and print shares for corporate headquarters, and perform snapshots has saved his company big

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bucks. The key, he says, is that using just one storage box and one OS reduces management and staff training costs. In fact, Israel says he's saving enough on labor costs alone to have each $200,000 box pay for itself within three years, including maintenance. In addition, the systems are saving him the most money upfront because they've allowed him to eliminate tape and tape-related expenses, such as Symantec/Veritas software licensing and a $250,000 per year contract with Iron Mountain for offsite tape vaulting.

Multiprotocol systems can also benefit companies with smaller storage requirements. "We don't have very much data," says Clark Dircz, CEO at Minneapolis-based CRM hosting company Axonom, who estimates his company's total production storage capacity at approximately 1TB. "Redundancy for our customers' databases [that] we manage is our highest priority."

Dircz says his Fibre Channel (FC)/iSCSI Storage Center SAN system from Compellent is perfect for the kind of elaborate mirroring and redundant connectivity some of his mission-critical CRM databases demand. At times, a single 100GB database server can have as many as six connections to storage, with mirrored FC and iSCSI connections splitting off into their own mirrors. A multiprotocol Storage Center box, however, means Dircz can achieve this tangled web of mirrors without each separate iSCSI or FC connection going to its own storage boxes.

"It's definitely saving us well into the six figures every year when you factor in staffing, training, maintenance, hardware acquisition, tech support contracts and the fact that we can boot our IP servers from the SAN," says Dircz.

Other users are looking at multiprotocol support as a key product differentiator. Marcus Epstein, storage administrator at Viejas Enterprise, a Native American company that has a casino in Southern California, uses his Compellent system for FC only, but plans to evaluate iSCSI. "Since the Compellent is basically just a server, all I would have to do is take the head offline and insert an iSCSI card--conversion done," he explains.

Arun Taneja, founder and analyst at the Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA, says multiprotocol systems allow users to control how they use HBAs. "It can also help when data is only mission critical for a period of time, not to have to deal with migration across boxes for tiered storage," he says. "And managing a single box is always easier than [managing] two."

--Beth Pariseau

This was first published in January 2007

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