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Three strikes against FC SANs

The Bond Market Association, the Regional Cancer Center and the Junior Achievement organization picked NetApp, EqualLogic and LeftHand IP SANs over FC. Here's why.

For organizations in need of a storage upgrade or consolidation, a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN has been the obvious choice for several years. Three such firms recently decided, however, that FC SANs were the wrong choice.

FC failed to measure up to iSCSI in comparisons made by three recent fast-growth organizations: The Bond Market Association, the Regional Cancer Center and the Junior Achievement organization. In this story, those firms' IT managers explain why iSCSI beat FC and how they put iSCSI to work.

IT budget constraints and disaster preparedness are the common strain in the threesome's quest for better storage.

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For Nelson Puello, manager of information technology for the Regional Cancer Center in Erie, Penn., managing rapidly growing storage needs for the next five years and creating a disaster recovery plan were twin priorities.

At the world headquarters of the Junior Achievement organization, the entrepreneurial educational organization for kids the world over, George Murphy, senior manager of network services, wanted to build a secure enterprise-class storage network with a nonprofit's budget.

"We don't have money in our budget for technology," Murphy said. "We had to find an economical way to meet our storage needs."

The Bond Market Association, a trade association for bond dealing companies, has offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London. Spurred by new security threats and rapid growth, computer operations manager Joseph Puchalski, led a move to consolidate those sites' distributed storage networks into a single data center.

"The Bond Market Association plays a role in the continuity of function in the markets in case of disaster, and we played that role during 9/11," Puchalski said. "We need to be able to function during disasters."

Financial constraints

All three IT professionals began their storage projects with the assumption that FC would be the solution to their problems. All three discovered that it would add an enormous problem: cost.

Murphy wanted to replace his DAS system with a FC SAN. He was hoping for a large donor contribution to fund the project. When a local vendor introduced him to Boulder, Colo.-based LeftHand Networks Inc. and its IP SAN products, he never looked back at FC.

"The iSCSI solution from LeftHand saved us several hundred thousand dollars over the FC SAN we were planning on," Murphy said. "Not only that, but we don't have to pay a consultant to manage the network for us. We'd have to have a consultant for Fibre."

Puchalski researched the big vendors of FC SANs: EMC Corp., IBM and Hitachi Data Systems. "I was looking for something that would give us flexibility, the ability to boot from consolidated storage, take snapshots, do replication and all of that sort of bit-level data manipulation and functionality," he said. The cost of those features on a FC network floored him.

Poking around on the Internet during his research, he discovered iSCSI. His VAR (value-added reseller) suggested he talk to EqualLogic Inc., based in Nashua, N.H.

"The EqualLogic solution offered the same capacity and all the capabilities I needed and wanted from the high-end vendors at a tremendously lower price," Puchalski said.

Puello, too, quickly saw the cost advantage of iSCSI, particularly when it came to feature bang for buck. After some research, Puello chose an iSCSI product from Network Appliance Inc., (NetApp) headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif.

With iSCSI, the Regional Cancer Center didn't have to scrap its current IT infrastructure and build a new one for a SAN. "A lot of money would have gone into buying more expensive equipment," Puello said.

He was surprised to find that the NetApp appliance offered built-in features that were not included in the basic FC SAN gear. So, he'd have to pay a premium to add those features.

"We wouldn't have been able to mirror data, take snapshots or integrate with our existing Microsoft products, such as Exchange," Puello said. "In short, we would not have realized our entire disaster recovery strategy if we had gone with a FC SAN."

FC complexity issues

Finally, iSCSI beat FC in ease of implementation and administration in all three evaluations.

Murphy connected three LeftHand NSM 200 series appliances to the Junior Achievement organization's SAN, which connects to 16 Microsoft servers. "The day we installed iSCSI, we migrated our file servers over to it and within three days we had our Exchange servers migrated to it," Murphy claimed. The same project with FC would have taken weeks, he said.

For the Bond Association, manageability was a primary goal. "All of the components of the solution had to have that aim," Puchalski said. "The EqualLogic array fitted the criteria perfectly."

Puchalski implemented an EqualLogic PS 100E iSCSI array. He consolidated his existing WAN, with a LAN at each of his three locations, into a single data center. Initially, he installed 28 servers and booted 26 of them from the EqualLogic array. He has since added a PS 200E for more storage capacity.

All three IT pros recommend iSCSI for organizations with financial constraints, limited in-house skill sets and rapidly growing storage needs.

About the author: Maxine Kincora is a freelance technology writer based on the west coast. When she is not writing to inform and enlighten the world of IT she acts, directs and writes for the stage.

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