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EqualLogic updates storage provisioning software

Users have more options when it comes to pooling storage with version 3.0 of EqualLogic's array software, but some are wondering whatever happened to the SAS disks.

IP storage area network (SAN) vendor EqualLogic Inc. has announced version 3.0 of its array software, which will...

allow users new options provisioning storage in their environments and allow for snapshots across volumes, tiered storage automation and better performance monitoring. That's the good news, say users, but some are also wondering when the support for serial attached SCSI (SAS) disks will come about, something EqualLogic has promised for a while.

Currently, EqualLogic's iSCSI arrays, which come in "building blocks" of varying capacities, automatically rebalance data when a new member array is added to the environment -- this is similar to products from other IP SAN startups, including LeftHand Networks Inc., which operate much like a NAS cluster but with block-level data access. However, before version 3.0 of the software, any new array added to a group would be automatically assimilated into that group; whereas the new software allows administrators to add arrays for specific storage pools, rather than load balancing data across every array.

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So, for example, if an administrator purchased a new EqualLogic array and wanted to add that capacity only for engineering applications within his company, he or she could block off the new capacity as assigned to engineering only, and arrays holding data for the sales or human resource departments would not load-balance data across them.

Other new features in the software include volume collection, which allows snapshots to be taken across volumes so that an administrator can take a snapshot dedicated to one application, such as email at the same time.

New tiered storage capabilities allow users to mix arrays with different classes of drives into their storage pools, and migrate data either automatically, according to frequency of access or manually. EqualLogic is also announcing a new high-capacity array, the PS400E, which uses new 750 GB SATA drives from Seagate Technology. Another array, the PS200X, which is to contain 10,000 RPM Seagate SATA drives, was originally scheduled to be included in this week's announcement but has been postponed until this fall, EqualLogic said.

"We allow our customers options in everything, including whether or not they want migration to happen automatically or manually," said John Joseph, vice president of marketing for EqualLogic, a subtle shot at competitor Compellent, which recently announced tiered storage automation -- and automation only -- for its SANs.

Finally, new performance and capacity monitoring tools will allow more visibility into the environment in order to keep up with the new snapshot, tiered storage and pooling features, according to EqualLogic.

The GUI interface allows managers to control all arrays and pools from one group, but if a manager has more than one group in several branch office locations, each group requires a separate browser window for management.

According to Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group, other restrictions still remaining on EqualLogic's products have to do with the fact that the company has been strictly focused on IP SANs, and they do not offer Fibre Channel arrays or NAS boxes.

Still, Schulz said, "The best thing about this is that, like every other EqualLogic software feature, they offer it to their customers for free."

"The volume collections are what I'm most excited about," said Alan Hunt, director of operations for Michigan regional law firm Dickinson Wright PLLC, which currently has 11 arrays spread across six sites. "This will allow me to create snapshot schedules at a higher level, and it seems like it'll be a lot more logical as far as the management goes."

Hunt also said he was enthused about tiered storage automation, and that the new software will also give him "subtle clues" about the best data protection scheme for each set of data. However, he said, he's hoping that eventually EqualLogic will develop a "semi-automatic" option for the tiered storage migration, one that doesn't require him to either make every decision or make few decisions for the migration between tiers.

Users still have a wish list

"I don't know that it will have a benefit for our environment, as our biggest advantage using EqualLogic is striping data across all arrays for better performance," said Steve Meckling, network services administrator for Shiloh Industries Inc. "But it seems like there were probably other customers who had a specific need for this in different environments from ours."

Generally, Meckling said, he was still waiting for the solution to a problem he had detailed in a previous story (Factories pick monolithic IP SANs for DR, March 28). "They allow for two-way replication between arrays at different sites, yes," Meckling said. "But if my last snapshot was sent over the wire at 2 a.m. and we have a failure at 9 a.m., we can't just failback over immediately, because the EqualLogic system knows that the data at the secondary site might be 'stale.. I have argued that we should have the ability to make the choice to lose some data if it's important enough to get our server back up and running."

Hunt said that he would like EqualLogic to add the ability to replicate one volume to multiple sites, something EqualLogic told SearchStorage that it is working on adding in future releases. Hunt also said that he would love to be able to manage all his groups in one browser window, something EqualLogic also said will be forthcoming.

"These are relatively minor issues," Hunt said. "But it would be convenient."

The users also said they were also confused about EqualLogic's earlier announcements that it was working on support for SAS disks. EqualLogic first announced back in the fall of 2003 that it was working with Maxtor to add support for the then-new disk type within its arrays; recent announcements have reiterated this commitment following Maxtor's acquisition by Seagate, which EqualLogic also partners with.

"Generally, SCSI disk has a higher mean time between failure (MTBF) than SATA, at least in the perception of most storage buyers," Meckling said. "I'm curious as to why it hasn't been added into the arrays yet."

"Please stay tuned," Joseph said when asked for clarification on EqualLogic's SAS roadmap. We have been public about our SAS development plans but we are not providing any details at this time."

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