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Users evaluate new and improved HP EVA

As part of its storage renaissance in the last year, HP announced new EVA midrange arrays; users tell SearchStorage their likes and dislikes.

Hewlett-Packard Co. kicked off a year of reinvestment in its storage business with the announcement last May of an overhaul to its EVA arrays: HP added the EVA 4000, 6000 and 8000 to the previous 3000 and 5000, and targeted the EVA squarely at the midrange with new features.

Users who've had a chance to kick the tires on the new arrays told SearchStorage they value new snapshot capabilities and brushed-up management features -- while others either had yet to jump on the new StorageWorks bandwagon or had vowed not to join because of previous experiences.

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Software enhancements to the new HP EVA line included additions to Business Copy EVA, software that includes SnapClone mirroring and snapshot capabilities. The new arrays support Oracle databases, of which you can take 16 snapshots at a time. The newer Business Copy EVA also allows immediate use of clone copies.

According to Wayne Cobb, CTO of Rydex Industries, these new capabilities had been of the most use in his environment so far. Cobb said Rydex had been running four MSA 1000 arrays for several years, and added an EVA 6000 at the beginning of this year. The company's SAN now has 16 terabytes (TB) of capacity, with around 1 TB used so far. Cobb said Rydex was still working on getting servers attached to the SAN -- so far only about a dozen of the company's 100 servers are attached to the SAN, he said, but the attached servers are the most critical, including a cluster of four HP ProLiant DL580s, on which Rydex runs its financial services databases.

According to Cobb, the databases are constantly being tested for quality assurance and used for training for new employees. To protect production data, the firm takes images or copies of the databases and uses the copies for testing and training purposes; before the EVA, the company had been using a separate product from Veritas to move the data.

"The SnapClone and Snapshot services in the EVA work faster since data doesn't have to be exported to a separate tool before being sent elsewhere on the SAN," he said.

Cobb said Rydex has also begun using snapshots and SnapClone for backup, taking images of production applications, including the databases. The snapshots are then backed up to tape, rather than backing up the data directly to tape, as they had with the MSA arrays.

"It frees up the backup process, since we can back up snapshots to tape in the background rather than waiting to do it all at night," Cobb said. "It's also allowed our applications to run about two times faster since they're not dealing with extra weight of backups to tape."

In addition, he said, features designed to make the EVA easier to use, including online LUN growth and a Web-based interface for adding physical disks, as well as automatic performance optimization within the array, have allowed him to save on staffing costs.

"The EVA is easy enough to use that I don't need classically trained system engineers to do every job," he said.

But, he said, there is a learning curve with even the engineers between managing the MSA and EVA, especially in learning how to work with an active-active multipathing system rather than the active-passive setup on the MSA.

According to Rich DeBrino, CIO of Advances in Technology, which manages IT for healthcare institutions, his company has evaluated, but not yet purchased an EVA. Currently, the company is using MSA 1000 arrays.

"At the time we went with the MSA [more than two years ago] it was all about cost: The MSA was at a much lower price point, and we were already over budget for [our] SAN project," said DeBrino in an e-mail to SearchStorage. "If I was doing it now I'd definitely look at the EVA instead…I think I will be going to one either in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2007."

Aside from the new features, including deeper virtualization capabilities and SnapClone, DeBrino said he had been impressed so far with the speed improvements in the new EVA series, which he said were "based on faster disk speeds, faster bus speeds on the backplane and the caching they do."

In the end, however, if HP wants to rake in new EVA users, it will have to hope its redoubled marketing efforts have taken hold. For DeBrino, at least, they had.

"A [colleague] at a shop that had been considering NetApp for the features (as had we) said you can't beat the HP performance," he said. "HP has had a lot of turmoil [in] the last few years, and now they have had the last year or so to "stabilize"…so I feel more comfortable with some of their product line having had the benefit of improvement -- think of wine aging."

DeBrino also said he had heard of "implementation issues" like those Cobb said he had experienced moving from active-passive HBAs to an active-active version.

"You have to make sure you find a partner that truly knows the product and understands storage, not just a "box seller", because storage is a different beast," said DeBrino.

Not every MSA user, however, has been reached by StorageWorks' resurgence. According to Jeff Prevet, network manager of Accretive, who has two MSA 1000 arrays and is an HP shop for servers -- mostly ML330s -- data growth will force him to add new arrays in the next year or so, but he's pretty sure already he'll go with EMC.

Prevet said he hasn't formally evaluated any arrays but said EMC's Clariion arrays "seem like a more robust product.

"HP arrays seem like nice entry-level products," he said.

And for some users, bad experiences with HP during the years that its storage division struggled are not easily forgotten. Hal Weiss, director of IT for Baptist Memorial Healthcare, was even more outspoken about his intention not to buy more from HP.

Weiss said Baptist has a 98-TB EVA 5000 and XP 12000 SAN in production currently.

"After three years of using it, I have to be honest, that if I had the decision to make over again, I would never do it," Weiss said.

Weiss said that, in his experience, the EVA 5000s did not deliver performance as promised because they use too many disks dedicated to spares. And on every upgrade, Baptist was forced to take every server down, take the array down and upgrade the software.

"That's a major fiasco in healthcare when you have to give people notice four to five weeks ahead if you want to take down one server," he said.

But, he added, "To be fair, they have solved a lot of those problems with new EVAs, but I had such a bad experience I don't think I would consider buying more HP unless it was a really, really good price."

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