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A sampling of self-contained SAN products

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Cheap SAN
Price was also important to Alsac/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. This fundraising arm of the hospital began upgrading its storage two years ago by adding self-contained IP SANs from LeftHand Networks, referred to as network storage modules. "We looked at Fibre Channel and EMC, [but] couldn't justify the cost for our use," says Chris Scholik, manager of network services. However, the organization uses EMC Symmetrix storage elsewhere.

A self-contained IP SAN from LeftHand Networks fit right into their budget. "We had plenty of bandwidth and a big Cisco 6500 switch, so we wouldn't have to build a separate storage subnet," says Scholik. With an IP SAN, Alsac could also take advantage of the SCSI initiator in the server rather than purchase HBAs. Its LeftHand SAN came with a network storage module with 4TB of raw storage, 2TB usable when configured for data protection, for $45,000.

Zenon Environmental Inc., a water filtration company in Oakville, Ontario, also found cost to be an important factor. The company had been using an EMC Clariion as shared FC storage, and maintenance costs were $25,000 a year. Instead, the firm opted for a self-contained SAN from EqualLogic. "It cost $40,000 Canadian, [the equivalent of] less than two years of EMC maintenance," reports Shawn Eveleigh, senior systems administrator.

Without a need for high performance or high I/O, Zenon didn't feel it was necessary to pay for FC storage. After looking at LeftHand and Intransa, it bought two EqualLogic units, each with 1.7TB of usable storage, and used the second unit for remote data replication. "The price delta between iSCSI and FC solutions, and the cost of FC drives compared to SATA is so high, it didn't make sense to us. As long as we can get the performance we need, who cares if it's an FC SAN?" says Eveleigh.

Ease of deployment
Beyond low cost, ease of deployment is also central to the self-contained SAN concept. "We went with LeftHand for the simplicity. It is simple to install, simple to operate and easy to scale," says John Denardo, innovation and technology director for Eagle County, CO, of the county's 12TB self-contained iSCSI SAN. With a total training budget of just $22,000, he couldn't afford to spend much on training. With LeftHand, training was part of the installation. "The whole setup came to just over one-third of what an FC system would cost without any training," he says.

For Greater Media, ease of deployment clinched the deal. "Winchester Systems came in and helped me set it up. Within an hour, it was functioning and I did the fine-tuning myself," says the firm's Mossman. "EMC wanted to design us a SAN, which would have taken time, labor and driven up the cost."

Mossman manages storage through a simple management console. "The hardest part was configuring the servers, not the SAN," he recalls. Greater Media is running Microsoft Server 2003 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, and is clustering the servers in active-active mode. "We spent several months configuring the servers to my liking and testing the cluster," he adds.

Alsac/St. Jude also was attracted by the ease of deployment of its self-contained LeftHand Networks IP SAN as well as the low cost. "There is almost nothing to configure," says Scholik. "And because it's an IP SAN, not FC, we don't have to bother with zoning or masking or any of that."

Scalability
The biggest shortcoming of self-contained SANs is scalability. They are constrained by the amount of disk capacity that can fit into the box, and the number of ports that can be squeezed into the back of the box. "When you want to scale because you ran out of ports or you can't put in any more disk, you'll have to buy another box," says Data Mobility Group's McAdam. Of course, the boxes are pretty cheap, especially if you are adding SATA drives and Ethernet ports.

But buyers of these products aren't particularly worried about scalability. "If I want to expand the capacity, I can put in more Winchester boxes and manage them all through the one console," says Mossman. Scholik at Alsac/St. Jude has the same reaction: "If we need more storage, I just buy another LeftHand unit and add it to the storage pool. We don't have to go through any forklift upgrade," he says.

Self-contained SANs aren't for every organization. But for those that have been shut out of SAN storage because of its complexity and high cost, or for their lack of FC and storage skills, self-contained SANs offer a way to capture the benefits of SAN-based shared storage.

This was first published in January 2005

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