Thane Morgan, director of information technology for the town of Fishers, a suburb of Indianapolis, had virtualization on his mind from the start. He also looked at LeftHand but did not like the way that software vendor made the hardware decision for you. “Being dependent on their [LeftHand’s] control of hardware drives my cost up,” he says.
So Morgan bought SANMelody software from DataCore that is hardware-agnostic. “For about $60,000, I got two brand-new, dual-core Dell 1950s to be my new app servers. Then I was able to load SANMelody onto the best two of my old servers to create my SAN.”
Hanging SATA drive cages off the converted SAN boxes gave him six terabytes of storage. “I am licensed for 16 terabytes with DataCore,” Morgan says. “With LeftHand, for the same amount of money, I would have been stuck at two four-terabyte nodes without my new app server boxes.”
He bought the hardware and software and did prototyping last summer, so when VMware announced support for iSCSI in September, he was ready. “We got it all running in December, and, finally, my server is completely decoupled from the hardware.”
Clearly, Morgan is excited by the power of combining server virtualization with SAN technology. “If I had virtual servers and no SAN, it would be easy to back up and restore the server on another machine if, for example, I needed to do maintenance. But this still takes time and probably means taking some applications offline. When you add the SAN, you can do the same thing with no interruption of service.”
Consultants such as Jamie Anderson, president of Emergent Networks, a consultancy and VAR in Minneapolis, are finding the combination of iSCSI and virtualization is enough to convince hesitant clients to make the leap to shared storage.
Anderson cites a recent engagement with a small bank. “This is a new bank in Savage, Minn.,” he says. “Without iSCSI they would not have considered a SAN. But we just put in an EMC Clariion and two virtual servers. Right now they only have 800GB of data, but they are in good shape to grow, and there was almost no learning curve since it is all Ethernet based.”
Anderson adds that virtualization was one of the drivers behind Chief Manufacturing’s selection of an iSCSI SAN. “We did this about 18 months ago,” he says. “We use iSCSI to mount local drives to Exchange and SQL Server.”
Easing the pain
Virtualization is a key iSCSI selling point, but it’s just one of several. As director of professional services for Intelenet Communications, a hosting firm, Jeff Stein is always searching for ways to streamline provisioning and maintenance. To that end, he started looking at iSCSI about three years ago. “We did not find it suitable for our managed server offering at the time,” he says.
Fast-forward to today, and Stein is an iSCSI fan. “The technology got flatter, and prices dropped,” he says. “iSCSI made it possible for us to go to a diskless managed server. Our OS and our customers’ data now reside on the SAN, and we deliver about 1,000 servers via our iSCSI environment. We have cut our provisioning and response times by a factor of six going to an iSCSI SAN.”
He had already provisioned Fibre Channel SAN infrastructure as a special service for contract customers, but Intelenet’s generic offering was all DAS. “We looked at extending Fibre Channel to all our customers,” he explains, “but it would have cost 10 times as much as iSCSI. Then there is the skill-set issue. No member of our 24/7 staff is afraid to get on these [iSCSI] devices. I don’t think this would be true for Fibre Channel.”