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Free of Fibre Channel baggage, firm builds IP SAN

For organizations with existing FC-SAN investments, the lure of IP storage may not be great, but for the Carlson Companies, the Minneapolis-based marketing, travel and hospitality giant, making the move from an all direct-attached storage (DAS) environment to a FC-SAN seemed like more trouble than it was worth.

"We don't have any investment in Brocade, or Fibre Channel for that matter," says Gary Johnson, an architectural consultant with Carlson Shared Services, the company's global IT group, freeing them up to look at other ways to network storage.

"What we really wanted to do is connect remote office storage over IP, so we can get data anywhere we need it in the world," says Johnson.

And while it's possible to send FC data over long distances "if you're going more than 30 miles, you probably need to go to IP anyway," points out Mike Price, enterprise architect.

Carlson's solution was to build an IP SAN using Nishan Systems' multiprotocol IPS 4000 switches and redundant Cisco 6509 Gigabit Ethernet switches to connect to the FC interfaces on HP and Sun Solaris servers, and the FC ports on a 10TB HP XP512 storage array.

Nishan's IPS 4000 works by converting FC to its iFCP protocol, which the company has submitted as a standard.

Carlson also looked at Cisco's SN 5420 and 5428 iSCSI routers, but found that it didn't deliver the performance that the company required.

Which isn't to speak ill of the 5420. Judging from deployments of the iSCSI router, Cisco isn't pushing the product for hyper-demanding environments like Carlson's. DataPeer, for example, a storage service provider in New York City, uses the 5420 to deliver services such as backup over the Internet to small- and medium-sized businesses. Customers that want to do remote replication of, say, a transactional database tend to do so over Fibre Channel, says Alan Koisman, DataPeer technology research leader.

Regardless of the scale and particulars of their deployments, Carlson and DataPeer execs are unanimous on the main benefit of IP storage: being able to use IP-trained staff. "There's a real surplus of people who know IP," says Alan Kuritsky, DataPeer vice president of sales and marketing, but "there's not a lot of Fibre Channel expertise available."

Carlson's Johnson concurs. "If I walk down the aisle at CSS, how many people do I have that know IP to Fibre Channel? 30 to 1." For Carlson, one of the main advantages of going with IP storage is that "we don't have to train anyone."

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