Small shops revamp storage with iSCSI SAN software

More and more companies are using server and storage virtualization software to upgrade from DAS to SANs for high availability.

Truly Nolen of America Inc., an international pest control company, and Covenant House of Toronto, a Canadian nonprofit organization, recently made similar moves from direct-attached storage (DAS) to networked storage using a bundle of server and storage products from DataCore, Hewlett-Packard and VMware.

DataCore sells several total enterprise virtualization bundles based on virtual servers and desktops from Citrix and VMware and its own storage virtualization software. HP offers DataCore SANSymphony software as an option for managing heterogeneous storage environments, and DataCore's channel partners combine HP hardware with virtualization software.

Their businesses may be different, but the Truly Nolen and Covenant House IT environments look similar. Family-owned Truly Nolen has between 3 TB and 4 TB of data and Covenant House has 4 TB of data. Even with relatively small capacities, they outgrew DAS and moved up to SANs.

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Truly Nolen upgraded to an iSCSI SAN because its servers were running out of storage. Working with VAR Pinnacle Group, the pest control company evaluated storage from Dell, EqualLogic, EMC and HP before going with DataCore running on redundant HP MSA60s.

DataCore's software-only product was less expensive than hardware-based products.Systems engineer Themis Tokkaris said he wanted to keep using the HP hardware that he manages remotely through HP's Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) software. ILO doesn't manage the MSA storage directly, but the storage is visible to it from the server side. He also said using software to create a SAN seemed to be "more flexible, if we had immediate needs we could easily bolt on more capacity."

Truly Nolen has also been rolling out VMware ESX at its data center and has about half of its servers virtualized so far. Tokkaris waits until servers need more storage capacity or reach their natural end-of-life before virtualizing them.

"You're wasting storage adding another physical server [instead]," he said. "You can't really get small drives anymore." Each virtualized server saves Tokkaris about $70,000. Virtual servers also save management time, as has DataCore's snapshots that allow him to quickly stand-up test and development servers.

Skeletons in the server closet

Covenant House was dragged into its storage redesign by a failure in its old server closet. It was running a mixture of IBM, HP and Dell servers with about 1 TB of DAS capacity when a failed server took down the network for several hours. Information services consultant Wendy Craig said the failure was painful for the 24/7 operation that serves homeless youth in Toronto.

"Connection to the youth community is primarily done through the website and email," Craig said. "Covenant House gets 80% of its income from the public, and keeping fundraising activities going is very important."

Craig was hired to supervise the update of the Covenant House networks. She brought in Interware, a VAR she had worked with in a previous job. Interware recommended virtualization with VMware's ESX server and DataCore's SANMelody iSCSI SAN virtualization software on two MSA60s. Like Truly Nolen, Covenant House phased in its server virtualizaton. It took nearly two years to virtualize all the servers and move to the DataCore SAN, Craig said.

Synchronous and asynchronous data replication enable disaster recovery

Both Truly Nolen and Covenant House have used DataCore's synchronous and asynchronous data replication to add redundancy and disaster recovery to their systems. DataCore's software provides synchronized replication between the MSA60s on both of Covenant House's main facilities, and DataCore's asynchronous replication sends data to a remote site for off-site disaster recovery. Truly Nolen is planning its secondary data center for next year, and Tokkaris expects to use DataCore's asynchronous replication as well.

In the meantime, Tokkaris said he'd like to see better support for thin provisioning between Windows NTFS and DataCore's thin provisioning software. When a file is deleted, Windows doesn't recover that space immediately, said Aaron Schneider, Pinnnacle Group's director of sales engineering. It instead appends new writes to the end of the existing volume, a phenomenon called "hole punching" that sometimes springs up with thin provisioning.

Fixing that issue would require cooperation from both sides. "It's on my wishlist for DataCore to write something to help gain that space back [immediately]," Tokkaris said.

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