Industrial process-automation equipment manufacturer Caltrol Inc. found Pillar Data Systems' Axiom iSCSI storage area network (SAN) a better fit for consolidating its newly virtualized server setup than upgrading to a new Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. LeftHand Networks SAN because Pillar offered more data storage capacity at the same price and performance.
Las-Vegas based Caltrol was a LeftHand customer from the days before HP acquired the iSCSI vendor. When director of IT Steve Murphy joined the company a year ago, Caltrol had a nearly five-year-old LeftHand iSCSI SAN with a terabyte of capacity spread over four 250 GB Serial ATA (SATA) drives, as well as two newer LeftHand iSCSI SAN deployments totaling 1.8 TB. The rest of the Caltrol's approximately 4.5 TB of data was direct-attached to old servers, including two servers dating to 1998.
Murphy set out to consolidate, centralize and monitor Caltrol's IT infrastructure. "Our original goal was to expand the LeftHand Networks deployment," he said. Another goal was to virtualize many of the company's servers and attach a performance-hungry SQL database to the new iSCSI SAN, so Murphy was about to purchase a new 4.6 TB LeftHand system based on Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disks rather than SATA.
"SQL and Exchange are a pretty big part of what we do, and they have to perform as well attached to an iSCSI SAN as they do on DAS [direct-attached storage]," he said. LeftHand offers SATA-based iSCSI SANs as well, but a LeftHand reseller "did a pretty good job discouraging us from continuing on the SATA path" in the networked storage environment.
While 4.6 TB would allow consolidation of the company's existing storage at the right performance point, it wouldn't leave much room for capacity growth.
"I was about to put together a purchase order and capital budget [for the LeftHand system], but the sales guy from Pillar called three weeks before we were ready to do something with LeftHand," Murphy said. "He claimed he could give us the same performance as SAS on SATA disk. I didn't have a lot of faith, but I had to at least look at it."
Pillar's software features allow its iSCSI SANs to prioritize performance, according to application. Axiom systems place the most performance-intensive data on the outer tracks of disk spindles to optimize performance, then stores mid-level and low-priority applications in the middle and inner tracks of the disk. Pillar has recently begun to offer specific application profiles for applications like SQL and Exchange to optimize the layout of data on disk to maximize performance.
Murphy brought in a 10 TB Pillar Axiom iSCSI SAN and connected it to his SQL host as well as the Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) server he planned to use for data backup. Murphy said he didn't record specific benchmark numbers from all the tests, but was looking to see if it could offer minimally adequate performance for SQL "data dumps" while also servicing DPM. "Some reports took 3% to 4% longer" than on the company's current systems," and some were about 3% to 4% faster." Murphy said the baseline level of performance he was looking for was about 85 MBps to 90 MBps.
Both LeftHand's and Pillar's current systems can perform much faster than that, but an old Ethernet switch and a decade-old ERP application at Caltrol slowed them down. Smith considers the Pillar approach to iSCSI a better fit because it has its own internal connections between its capacity "bricks" and I/O "slammer" modules. LeftHand's iSCSI SAN, based on commodity server technology, would've used the company's legacy Ethernet network to connect nodes, Murphy said.
Caltrol still uses the legacy LeftHand SANs at its secondary location in Pleasanton, Calif., attached to a second DPM server for disaster recovery. "Instead of a 4.6 TB SAS system for $35,000, I got 10.7 TB of SATA disk and a disaster recovery infrastructure," Murphy said.
Updating the storage infrastructure and virtualizing servers also led to power savings around $500 per month, he said. "Those two 1998 servers with dual power supplies, those babies could power a house," Murphy said. "We expected this big 10U Pillar device to just put all those power savings back to the environment, but it doesn't consume much more power than our newer servers. It didn't drop our power costs on its own, but it gave us the opportunity to virtualize and get rid of our legacy tape system, which was pretty ugly [power-wise], too."
One area where Pillar has been less affordable, however, is in some software features. "Thin provisioning would make things easier and is certainly something we want, but our budget doesn't allow for [the license]," he said.