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Dell shop switches EqualLogic SAN for 3PAR InServ F-Class disk array to meet performance needs

Managed Health Care Associates swaps out a Dell EqualLogic SAN for a 3PAR InServ F-Class disk array to meet database performance needs.

A Dell Inc. server customer has swapped out its Dell EqualLogic iSCSI storage-area network (SAN) hardware in favor of 3PAR Inc.'s InServ F-Class midsized disk array, claiming the 3PAR device system can better handle the performance requirements of the company's databases.

Gregory Thomas, vice president of IT at Florham Park, N.J.-based Managed Health Care Associates (MHA) Inc., said the health services organization had been using a Dell Equallogic PS5500X system since March 2008. MHA began evaluating expansion of that system in October 2008 when it entered a new line of business that would increase data growth. At the time, the company stored about 6 TB on EqualLogic and about 10 TB of database data on direct-attached storage (DAS). It currently has approximately 40 TB of storage.

Rather than managing a growing DAS farm, MHA looked at consolidating databases that were running on DAS. "We needed to get away from DAS," Thomas said.

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The databases, based mostly on Microsoft SQL, required between 7,000 IOPS and 8,000 IOPS, Thomas said. "Dell gave us a configuration that could meet that benchmark, but it wasn't going to scale the way we wanted it to," he said.

Dell offered a choice between three more PS5000X or XV arrays with 10,000 rpm SAS drives for performance, or its highest-capacity PS5500E "Sumo" array.

Thomas said adding more PS5000X arrays would have reached the performance goal of approximately 7,000 IOPS across the whole configuration in aggregate, but not for each server requiring that performance or for multiple servers at the same time. The PS5500E array was measured by Dell at 4,290 IOPS and wouldn't have met MHA's performance needs, he said .

Thomas said he was disappointed that he couldn't combine the PS5500E and PS5000X into one pool. "That essentially means you're managing two SANs," he said. "Even practical things like snapshots were managed separately."

Travis Vigil, Dell's storage senior manager, responded to a request for comment with an email to "The EqualLogic PS5500E and the new PS6500E must currently be deployed as a separate pool of storage from the other EqualLogic arrays, but it's managed from the same management console as existing storage pools. For customers with high IOPS requirements, Dell offers a number of EqualLogic solutions including the latest PS6000 series that have been proven to meet the high performance demands of databases."

After looking at EqualLogic's configurations, Thomas considered systems from Compellent Technologies Inc., EMC Corp., LeftHand Networks (now owned by Hewlett-Packard Co.), 3PAR and Xiotech Corp.

EMC and Xiotech were eliminated for pricing reasons. Compellent's high-availability features turned out to be less suited to MHA's needs than 3PAR's, according to Thomas. "There are levels of active-active [storage controllers], we learned," he said. "Compellent is active-active, but if you have two servers you want to load balance, you have to plan it out so they're on different controllers. I didn't want to have to deal with that."

Thomas was interested in LeftHand's 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) iSCSI support, but LeftHand didn't have any 10 GbE field deployment references at the time.

3PAR offered the performance MHA was looking for, but at that time the features Thomas wanted were only available in 3PAR's higher-end InServ T-Class arrays. "They were clearly ahead of the game in performance and scalability with the way the mesh architecture works in their controllers," he said. "But, at the time, the T-Class was way beyond our budget. We were basically looking for high-end performance at a midrange price."

A short time later, MHA's 3PAR rep contacted them to tell them the F-Class was coming out. The F-Class, launched this spring, brought more of the T-Class features to the midrange product line. It replaced the E-Class, which didn't support 4 Gbps Fibre Channel or the same mesh architecture as the T-Class. "The F and the T are pretty much identical except for scale limits on the F-Class," Thomas said. The price was also much more palatable. List price for the F-Class starts at $80,000 vs. $130,000 for the T-Class.

MHA re-ran its benchmark tests on the F-Class, and consistently sustained between 8,000 and 9,000 IOPS. "And that's without short-stroking drives or solid-state drives [SSDs]," Thomas said.

Consolidating DAS onto the 3PAR SAN has reduced storage administration time by approximately 80%, and allowed the company to save 30% on its power and cooling costs, Thomas said. MHA was also able to cut costs by deploying SATA disk drives inside the 3PAR array rather than the 10,000 rpm SAS drives used by EqualLogic.

There are some tradeoffs to the new deployment, Thomas said. EqualLogic's management interface is more intuitive, and moving from all-inclusive to a la carte software pricing requires extra planning. "You really have to think about provisioning and how you're going to deploy features [with 3PAR]," he said. "Some of them are licensed according to capacity."

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