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Storage Outlook '08: Building out iSCSI SANs

Beth Pariseau
David Dulek is the storage administration lead for Fastenal Company Purchasing, a subsidiary of construction and industrial supplier Fastenal Co. Fastenal is a public company with more than 10,000 employees and 150 TB of capacity under management, most of it on EMC Corp.'s Clariion midrange disk array. The company also has several Sun Microsystems Inc. StorageTek tape libraries. Dulek said a move from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. SAN switches to Cisco Systems Inc. directors this year has him contemplating an iSCSI SAN build-out for 2008.

First, a look back at 2007. What was your biggest storage project that was completed this year? What problem did it solve for you?

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David Dulek: We swapped out our departmental switches, which were made by Brocade, for director-class Cisco switches. We were extending our SAN to a second data center in Indianapolis, and we were out of ports. Moving to directors helped with bandwidth on ISLs [interswitch links]. Our previous switches had 1 Gbps ISLs, and now we just have a blade chassis, and the speed between each of those is backplane speed, which is somewhere in the vicinity of 60 Gbps between the modules. So now, it really doesn't matter where we put the ISLs in the switch. Before, we really had to plan it out because you didn't want to put the heavy disk targets and heavy hitters on the same physical switch. It also positioned us for iSCSI because directors will do it over the same Fibre Channel port. We had been using FCIP to connect here and there.

Was that also part of a strategic move to Cisco from Brocade/McData?

Dulek: Our network guys use Cisco, so that was the biggest impetus for the decision. It seemed to work well for them support-wise. They all run the same, it's a matter of whether or not you can call up and get an answer. When you really need support, you need to examine who steps up to the plate and who doesn't. Knowing one evil, and not another [with the newly merged companies], we chose to go with the evil we knew, because their support had been good on the network side.

What's your most important storage project for 2008?

Dulek: With the director-class switches, we'll start delivering iSCSI to some of the lower end apps like test/dev and emerging technologies. Most servers now support GigE and either come with 2 GigE or 4 GigE ports. The hardware is there, all we need to do is plug in the ports, create a couple of networks and we're done. Right now, I'm working with the network guys to move forward with that. It will allow us to use cheaper servers for test, and we won't have to buy HBAs. A couple grand a server can save quite a bit, especially when you start talking clusters.

Vendors will be coming out with 8 Gbps Fibre Channel and 10 GigE products in earnest next year and pushing FCoE. Are any of those networking technologies of interest to you?

Dulek: Eventually, 10 GigE will help us significantly with our backbone, especially in delivering iSCSI. But, I don't plan to use either 8 Gbps or 10 GigE next year -- I'm only using 50% of 4 Gbps now.

With iSCSI out there and knowing how much of a pain it is to configure Fibre Channel, I don't see FCoE being huge. People aren't going to wait for that to come to the table unless at the same time they bring some management techniques that make it easier to manage Fibre Channel. I've been trying to explain how mapping Fibre Channel works to my networking guys, and we're mapping MAC addresses to each other. Ethernet guys haven't been working with MAC addresses manually in decades.

What storage technologies are you evaluating for 2008?

Dulek: iSCSI is the big thing -- we're going to be trying to figure out where it fits. Network equipment is half the price of storage equipment. Grabbing a couple of network switches and hooking them up to the storage end, we may be able to attach some of our hosts to our Fibre Channel SAN that wouldn't have been able to go in there otherwise. Then I think we'll be closely looking at how well it works and with the second data center completely blank, we'll be adding servers and copying data down there, and evaluating costs of HBAs and Fibre Channel ports, and how well the Fibre Channel and iSCSI play together.


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