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User simplifies virtual server storage with Hifn IP SAN

A construction company finds the server-like features of Hifn's Swarm iSCSI SAN the simplest way to jump into networked storage in support of a server virtualization project.

The increasing popularity of server virtualization has led to a new wave of migration from DAS to networked storage in enterprise IT. One user who recently moved from DAS to a storage area network (SAN) in support of a Virtual Iron Software Inc. deployment said he found a Windows-based iSCSI SAN from Hifn Inc. the simplest approach to networked storage.

When Shawn Partridge began as vice president of IT for Rockford Construction six months ago, the Michigan company had seven physical servers with DAS. Partridge's first move was to consolidate those servers onto one physical box using Virtual Iron's server virtualization software. "Both Virtual Iron and VMware had all the features we were looking for, but Virtual Iron cost an order of magnitude less, at around $3,000," he said.

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Partridge also said that his storage options were limited by VMware's slow certification process for storage vendors. "A lot of them are listed as tested with VMware, but we wanted more assurance than that that it would be supported," he said. He implemented Hifn's Swarm iSCSI SAN, which remains mired in the certification process with VMware, while Virtual Iron is compatible with any storage product running standard iSCSI protocols.

Before going with Hifn, Rockford evaluated a PS100 series iSCSI SAN from EqualLogic Corp., as well as a LeftHand Networks Inc. iSCSI SAN based on Hewlett-Packard Co.'s DL320 storage server. But EqualLogic's SAN is based on a custom operating system and LeftHand's is based on Linux; Partridge said the Swarm's Windows Storage Server interface is more familiar for his staff.

Partridge had also used the Swarm SAN in a previous job, and found Hifn cheaper this time around than even discounted prices from EqualLogic and LeftHand. Partridge declined to divulge the prices he was quoted by the vendors, saying that Rockford's policy is to keep pricing confidential, but said Hifn did not offer him a discount. Starting list price for a Swarm is $8,995.

For that price, Partridge said he also got better performance. "Other products had fewer drives available in their smallest models, which decreased performance compared to the Swarm," he said.

Partridge said the simplicity of the 15-drive, 7.5 TB Swarm has been key in his environment. "It's less expensive and complicated to go redundant on a Swarm," he said. The other products required software expertise to set up a second system for failover, but the Swarm automatically discovers a second node when a cable is plugged in to a dedicated port.

Despite the compatibility issues with VMware, Partridge said he made the Virtual Iron and Hifn purchasing decisions separately, but they've now become inseparable in his mind. "We selected both of those products for similar reasons; if they were incompatible with one another, I'm not sure what we'd do."

There are still some items on Partridge's wish list, such as support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) and SAS disks. "They tell me both of those will be supported in the next release," he said. A Hifn spokesperson confirmed that both features will be integrated into the Swarm line before July 2008.


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