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Big vendors overshoot small user's storage needs

Tired of big vendors trying to cram big systems into your infrastructure? One user went the IP SAN route to satisfy his modest storage needs.

Big storage companies are flooding the market with products aimed at small and medium-sized businesses, but when the Production Resource Group needed to move from a small direct-attached storage architecture to a centrally managed storage area network, the major vendors were pushing more than PRG needed. In the end, it took a small IP startup to fill a relatively small user's storage needs.

"[The big vendors] are scrambling for this lower end market. They were doing anything they could to shoehorn their technologies into our market," said Ian Smith, director of Information Technology for PRG, based in North Bergen, New Jersey.

Smith was working with less than one terabyte of data at each of his 13 international remote office locations and when he looked at EMC Corp., EqualLogic Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co., to fill his storage needs, he found their smallest systems were still too big. "Most vendors are shooting for the one terabyte-plus market," he said.

One of the reasons Smith brought in iSCSI specialists EqualLogic and LeftHand Networks Inc. was their scalable, distributed virtualization architectures. "A lot of other vendors don't do that, which doesn't make sense for a smaller business," Smith said.

Throughout his product evaluation process, Smith's mantra was loud and clear – don't overspend for storage. As a provider of lighting, audio, projection, rigging and services for touring Broadway shows, trade shows and film and television productions, PRG doesn't have a huge IT infrastructure, so paying a huge price was out of the question. Smith manages file shares, local databases and a custom-designed ERP system for 13 international sales and distribution centers, most of which have less than 250GB of data per site.

Smith opted for LeftHand's IP gear for its low price in comparison to systems like EMC's Symmetrix.

The LeftHand SAN gave PRG pooled storage with centralized management, scalability, snapshots, replication and failover for "less money than the other vendors wanted us to spend," Smith said.

LeftHand is providing PRG with its SAN/iQ management software and Network Storage Modules (NSM) to serve the primary data center in New York, as well as six remote sites.

The NSM 100 is a storage subsystem built on Intel processors and ATA disk drives that provides 500GB of capacity and scales in half-terabyte increments. PRG is using LeftHand's Remote IP Copy software for snapshots and replication to create and maintain multiple copies of data across multiple locations. An entry-level IP SAN configuration from LeftHand including the SAN/iQ software begins at about $15,000.

As a result of going the LeftHand route, PRG saved on operating costs, reduced the number of servers it needed online and is saving money on tapes. "We're not having to buy nearly as much tape media as we were and we're saving time in not having to have various people switching tapes," said Smith.

The iSCSI conspiracy theory

Some experts and users don't think IP SANs based on the iSCSI protocol are ready for production environments. According to Marc Farley, president of Building Storage Inc., the delay of the expected user adoption of the technology is no accident. "ISCSI has been disappointing. I've been saying it's coming, but why would the high-end vendors sell iSCSI when they can sell [more expensive] Fibre Channel components? It's a fox-in-the-henhouse type of problem," he said.

Because Redmond, Wash., is the epicenter for all things in IT, Farley believes Microsoft bears some responsibility for iSCSI's lackluster debut as a low-cost, mainstream alternative to Fibre Channel. "The problem with iSCSI is that Microsoft didn't have its initiator ready for a long time, which messed up the rollout plans of the subsystem vendors. The problem now is finding cheap storage hardware for iSCSI," Farley said.


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