Entry-level SAN arrays square off
Dell, HP pack big storage benefits into smaller SAN packagesFollow @pvenezia
The days of adding a local disk to every server are waning. With the rise of the storage SAN, it’s no longer necessary to make an educated guess on future storage needs when you spec server hardware. In a SAN environment, servers deliver data requested by the client applications; the SAN takes care of storing that data.
Even with the budget of a subterabyte network, the rewards of a SAN — management, security, scalability, and performance — are becoming achievable. Still, the leap from SAS/NAS to SAN takes a considerable investment, both in mind and budget. Dell and Hewlett-Packard are hoping to smooth this ride by offering lower-cost, scalable arrays to meet the needs of the smaller IT shop.
The Dell/EMC CX200 array is the fraternal twin of EMC’s CX200 — a 2GB FC (Fibre Channel), 15-drive, fully redundant 3U rack-mounted array. HP’s entry is the MSA1000, a 14-drive 4U rack-mounted array (4U with supplemental power supply), fully redundant, but also offering the benefit of 6- or 8-port integrated 2GB Fibre Channel switches. Both arrays list for less than $35,000 fully loaded but provide the same benefits of their larger comrades. For pure performance and manageability, the CX200 edges out the MSA1000, but the MSA1000 leads in flexibility and scalability.
Where’s my data?
Both Dell and HP have come a long way since the SAN dark ages of 2000, and Dell in particular is aiming at the entry-level market with the CX200. Dell has borrowed heavily from EMC to bring the CX200 to market; Dell is the hardware manufacturer of the CX200, not EMC, and provides end-to-end support on the array.
This partnership with EMC brings decades of storage experience to Dell’s customers, giving Dell a running start into the storage market. Dell utilizes EMC software, including VisualSAN and Navisphere, to manage the CX200 and its larger siblings. Navisphere, the Java-based management console for the CX200 array controllers, is accessible from any browser with JRE 1.4.1. The interface, however, is decidedly not a standard Java interface. If the applet wasn’t running in a browser window, it would be indistinguishable from a Microsoft Management Console plug-in, with hierarchical views of all displayed data, intuitive menus, and event flagging throughout the tree.
The application allows all forms of array management, from LUN (logical unit number) creation to storage groups management, as well as viewing the current state of every piece of hardware in the array. Navisphere’s GUI was developed after the Navisphere CLI (command line interface) was written, every GUI action has a CLI equivalent — a definite plus.
While the CX200 can be fully configured from Navisphere alone, Dell wrapped these tools in a much broader SAN management package called VisualSAN, with Dell-specific components to integrate with Dell OpenManage server tools. VisualSAN takes SAN management to a whole new level, providing a real-time graphical view of the SAN, with color codes determining link type, server presence, and overall SAN health.
VisualSAN plug-ins add more features, including Performance Manager, which gathers real-time statistics and creates charts of SAN performance, permitting simple trend analysis and troubleshooting. Configuration Manager includes features such as configuration snapshotting, which allows the administrator to create a data file containing every relevant data point in the SAN infrastructure. When a problem later occurs, it’s simple to compare a known good configuration to the current state to pinpoint the problem.