Retail company Zumiez Inc. had already been through a long evaluation process in its search for networked storage to replace aging DAS when it found itself between a rock and a hard place.
After several months of evaluating SAN products, the company, which uses Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) DL Series servers for its production data, was ready to sign on the dotted line for an HP EVA 3000 early last year -- when director of IT Lee Hudson checked over the fine print one last time.
At that moment, he said "We were a pen stroke away from signing the purchase order for HP when we found out from our reseller, Logicalis Group, that the HP product wasn't compatible with our Linux environment."
The company, which sells skateboarding and snowboarding gear at mall stores aimed at 12-to-24-year olds, was on the verge of buying an HP EVA 3000 SAN. But just before signing on the dotted line, the company discovered that the application it was using for its retail database wouldn't connect to the HP storage.
The application, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system designed by independent software vendor Epicor Software Corp. using Informix databases, would only run on Red Hat Linux 7.3, a version for which Red Hat no longer offers technical support. Connecting the older Linux servers to HP storage would have required an upgrade to a new version of Red Hat, but the designer of the ERP software told Zumiez its database wouldn't support an upgrade.
After this discovery, Zumiez pulled the plug on its SAN deal with HP (the company is still an HP shop for servers). It was another eight months of searching, Hudson said, before he finally found a product from Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) that would work with his version of Linux; today, Zumiez has 2.5 terabytes of data on a NetApp 3020c device. Even then, it took a combination of technologies to make it work.
"Our NetApp 3020c supports iSCSI SAN, NAS and NFS all in one device," Hudson said. "That is perfect for our environment. We don't need a separate device. Our Red Hat servers use data on the SAN via NFS mounts."
Ironically enough, Epicor has since tested its software and certified it as compatible with newer versions of RedHat Linux, but Hudson said he was content simply to have sidestepped the problem.
"We have no plans to upgrade our ERP databases to a newer version of Linux just yet," he said. "We don't need to right now."
"What I see here is an instance where NAS may have a backward compatibility advantage," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the Storage I/O Group. "It's not anything specific to HP --NAS and NFS have an edge in this scenario. As long as your server supports NFS, you have some level of backward compatibility given the abstraction that NAS and NFS provide."
Reached for comment via e-mail, HP spokesperson Aimee Schoaf commented: "Kernel 7.3 is an OS version that is no longer supported by Red Hat -- Red Hat stopped shipping and supporting 7.3 a long time ago. Based on our partnership with Red Hat, we support RHEL 2.1, which was released the same day."
She added, "We are not aware of this specific situation, but would have worked with the customer to make it work had we been approached on it."