Test Center: SANs tuned for virtualization pack nice surprises

Compellent, Dell, HP, Pillar Data, and roll-your-own Pillar/DataCore bring strong storage management features to XenServer, VMware, and Hyper-V environments

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The next step was installing the DataCore SANmelody software on an HP ProLiant ML370 G5 server. I didn't count the server in the cost of the system for two reasons. First, the server is still available for other uses, and second, a really expensive high-powered server is not required; SANmelody can even run on a VM. The server I used had a two-port QLogic 2Gbps HBA connecting it to the Promise array, but SANmelody will work with any storage the server can see -- whether direct-attached SCSI, internal storage, or external -- and can then make that storage available to other systems via Fibre Channel, iSCSI, or even Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

Further, SANmelody provides the full set of storage management capabilities found in any of the other systems (apart from Pillar Data's application-aware automation), such as thin provisioning of volumes, snapshots, and synchronous and asynchronous replication. In addition, I configured automatic migration of data from the RAID10 high-performance volume to the high-capacity RAID5 SATA volume, essentially using the 15,000-rpm high-speed drives as cache for the SATA volume.

SANmelody also offers a plug-in for the VMware Infrastructure and vSphere clients. This lets you perform any storage-related task, including creating volumes, cloning existing volumes, and expanding disks from within the VMware management console. You can also download a free evaluation version of the software that will support up to a terabyte of storage.

With a total price of less than $10,000 for a full-featured storage system with 3.5TB of usable disk space and very high performance due to the 15,000-rpm drives, why would anyone pay more for a storage system? Peace of mind and simplicity of installation are the primary reasons. You have to build this system yourself, and if something goes wrong, there is no single throat to choke; you could have several different vendors pointing fingers at each other. One other issue is the speed of the SANmelody management system: The process of coalescing multiple snapshots into a single new volume, which took from a few seconds to about a minute with the other systems I tested, took nearly 20 minutes for this system to complete.

I expect that SANmelody's volume unification depends on the speed of the Windows server hosting it. The system I installed SANmelody on had one single-core 2.8GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM. By comparison, the Compellent controller has dual Intel Nehalem processors and 32GB of RAM, and is probably handling some operations with dedicated hardware.

If you're willing to invest the time in making sure the components are all correct, and in getting all the separate parts working together, the Promise-DataCore system offers a huge bang for the buck and great virtualization support to boot.

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This story, "Test Center: SANs tuned for virtualization pack nice surprises," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization at InfoWorld.com.

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