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Dell shop picks LeftHand for iSCSI SAN

Beth Pariseau, Senior News Writer

Just two weeks before Dell Inc.'s acquisition of iSCSI SAN maker EqualLogic Corp., one of its server customers put a SAN from EqualLogic competitor LeftHand Networks Inc. into production.

"If we'd waited two weeks, would it have changed our decision? Hard to tell," said Richard Castleberry, director of IT operations for networking equipment vendor Enterasys Networks Inc. "I know now there may be further integration [with Dell and EqualLogic], but at the time I didn't."

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Enterasys was previously using an EMC Clariion array that it had purchased through Dell, but tired of trying to manage Fibre Channel. "I don't know if we just didn't understand how the EMC SAN was supposed to work, but it seemed like we were always having to open help tickets and get professional services engagements to help us work out problems," Castleberry said.

Since EMC was the incumbent vendor in his environment, Castleberry evaluated EMC's new AX4-5 array when considering a new SAN, but said he wanted a 100% iSCSI SAN. The AX4-5 is available as Fibre Channel or iSCSI. "It didn't seem like a purely iSCSI SAN to me," he said.

Enterasys also evaluated an EqualLogic PS Series SAN, and Castleberry said it was "neck and neck" with LeftHand's SAN/iQ system. "We did an evaluation matrix, and when we totaled up all the points, they were virtually tied," he said. What tipped the balance was that the LeftHand SAN could run on Dell 2950 server hardware, which his staff was already familiar with.

"My admins know how to change out drives in a Dell server, and we already have a support agreement with Dell for hardware maintenance on servers," he said. "We could have gotten a four-hour support SLA [service level agreement] from EqualLogic, but we could support ourselves right away with the Dell server." Another selling point was LeftHand's recently announced Virtual SAN Appliance, which can be used to turn direct attached storage (DAS) into an iSCSI SAN. Castleberry said this feature will come in handy for disaster recovery because he can repurpose old server hardware as a replication target at a remote site.

Since the deployment, Enterasys has started working on a joint marketing agreement with LeftHand centered around the "virtual data center." But Castleberry and LeftHand representatives said there was no relationship between the companies before the purchase of the SAN and that talks about the marketing agreement began this month.

The LeftHand SAN will eventually hold 30 TB capacity, but Castleberry admitted the company is not far along in rolling it out. Only about 5 TB of SQL, file and print, and Exchange data have been migrated to the SAN. The migration is going on while Enterasys is also rolling out server virtualization, upgrading to SQL 2005 and Exchange 2007, and creating SQL and Exchange server clusters. "We like to do a lot of things in parallel here," he said.

The virtual iSCSI SANs have also not yet seen the light of day. "Our DR facility is at SunGard in New Jersey," he said. "Once we get the production SAN rolled out, we'll do our first migration of data to the DR server at our primary site and ship it to them, rather than trying to do the first upload over the wire."

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