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SAN Newbie: Consolidation Easy, but Expensive

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Thinking about embarking on a server consolidation project? Eighteen months ago, so was John Penfield, CIO for the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet of Kentucky. But after careful deliberation, he chose to implement a SAN as a less drastic solution that addressed most of the challenges faced by his group.

The situation was this: At the helm of a largely Windows and Oracle shop, Penfield woke up one day "to a whole bunch of little servers in the back office" - 50 or so. "And they weren't alike either." Some were out of capacity, and some had mountains of unused disk space. "We were always faced with the situation of needing just one more disk drive, but not having an extra slot available. I worried about our ability to maintain them, or running out of space."

Unisys was contracted to do a server consolidation study, and came back with a surprising recommendation: as a first step, forgo server consolidation, and implement a SAN instead.

At first, Penfield was wary. "There was some risk: We had never done anything with SANs before." Furthermore, "I got no points from management for doing this - we were doing this only to improve our own internal efficiencies."

After "a lot of pacing," Penfield gave the go ahead. Unisys presented the group with two options: Clariion arrays from EMC, or MSA1000s from then-Compaq, now Hewlett-Packard.

Ultimately, Penfield chose to go with the MSA1000s for cost reasons. True, "EMC cut us a tremendous

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deal that was really hard to say no to, but I knew that it was only good for the first deal," Penfield says. "With the MSA1000, the discount was nowhere near EMC's, but its list price was about half." The MSA 1000 also includes an integrated five-port Fibre Channel switch, further keeping costs down.

The group wound up purchasing two MSA 1000 arrays - one for the data center, and another for a backup location. Since then, Penfield's group has purchased three more MSA 1000s, for a total of 3.5TB of capacity, to which it connects its newer servers.

How has it gone? "We're actually further along than I thought we would be at this point," Penfield reports. "It was much easier than we originally feared."

In fact, Penfield's only real complaint is that he can't add more servers to the SAN because Fibre HBAs are so expensive. "Paying $1,500 for an HBA is a bit lopsided in the equation, especially when you consider that you can get a whole blade server for only $1,700." And while there are $300 copper HBAs on the market, they are not supported. At the price of Fibre HBAs, "it just doesn't make sense to retrofit the older servers."

This was first published in January 2003

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