Europe’s Largest iSCSI SAN Keeps On Growing

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The need to consolidate and centralize a financial application service provider’s IT servers led to the creation of Europe’s largest iSCSI storage area network (SAN).

With the burden of servicing and maintaining approximately 2,000 decentralized servers becoming too great, ASP SDC Udvikling A/S knew there had to be a more cost-effective and efficient way to run its IT operations. It took some time, but the company found a way.

Today, the Denmark-based provider of IT systems for next-generation financial services runs an iSCSI SAN from storage solutions provider EqualLogic that provides 70 terabytes of storage capacity for 200 Dell servers and has boot from SAN capability.”The EqualLogic iSCSI SAN was easy to set up, was priced attractively, and provides us with good performance,” says Bo Christiansen, SDC IT Consultant.

A Better Way

SDC Udvikling A/S is a company that has come a long way. Formed in 1963 as an organization whose purpose was to handle electronic bookkeeping for Danish savings banks, the company’s mission today is to lower costs for individual banks through large-scale joint operations.

Eighty-five financial institutions in Denmark — and, by the end of June 2005, an additional 80 financial institutions in Norway — bet their business on financial applications provided SDC Udvikling A/S. The ASP offers its customers more than a dozen applications ranging from traditional office automation and Lotus Notes to Internet banking and cutting-edge mobile banking services.

With an eye toward the future, SDC Udvikling A/S began two years ago to look for a SAN solution that was inexpensive, provided good performance and was easy to maintain. “Our goal was to centralize our servers to improve costs and maintenance,” says Christiansen.

At that time, SDC had about 2,000 servers running in 550 bank branch offices, or one to three servers, on average, at each branch location. The servers were used for office automation file servers and Lotus Notes mail.

Interested in expanding its operations and providing better service for its customers, SDC knew it had to centralize its operations. “We wanted a centralized solution with 24/7 operations,” says Christiansen. Without centralization, the problems associated with running a decentralized environment would only continue to escalate.

According to Christiansen, software distribution was tedious to carry out on decentralized servers, and repairing servers that were located all over the country was time-consuming. Each branch location was responsible for backup and restore, so local personnel were needed.

Already familiar with IP technology — the company used gigabit Ethernet switches for connectivity between servers — SDC had high hopes that IP SAN technology would provide the price/performance, scalability, flexibility, reliability and security that it needed to improve and grow its business.

SDC was also familiar with Fiber Channel SANs, which it had been running in its data center for several years, from companies such as Hitachi, IBM and StorageTek.

“We knew that if we opted for another Fiber Channel SAN solution, it wouldn’t be cheap,” says Christiansen. Other limitations of going with an FC SAN included the cost of FC specialists to maintain the complex technology, and load balancing and server limits.

IP SAN Saves a Bundle

The company’s project got underway last year. The company tested about half-a-dozen iSCSI SAN products from different vendors before selecting the EqualLogic PS Series iSCSI SAN.

“The EqualLogic SAN is plug and play, very easy to install and maintain, and we only need two part-time people to look after it,” says Christiansen. To its benefit, SDC already had network engineers in house familiar with IP SAN technology.

The EqualLogic PS family consists of the PS50E, PS100E, PS100X, PS200E and PS1600E iSCSI-based storage arrays. According to the company, performance begins at 300 MB/sec and 60,000 IOPS, and scales to more than a million IOPS.

“The cost is about one-third of what we would have paid for an FC SAN.”

— Bo Christiansen, IT consultant

At a cost of less that $2 million, SDC has a 70TB SAN made up of the PS Series arrays (a combination of PS100E arrays, PS200E arrays and PS50E arrays), and 200 Dell diskless servers fitted with Adaptec iSCSI 7211C host bus adapters (HBAs). “The cost is about one-third of what we would have paid for an FC SAN,” says Christiansen.

Besides cost, Christiansen says the iSCSI SAN solution adds advantages such as load balancing capability and the ability to add unlimited servers, with a new server up and running in 10 minutes.

Growing and Growing

The initial EqualLogic iSCSI SAN configuration consisted of eight PS Series storage arrays providing 35 terabytes of storage capacity for 120 Dell servers, 100 of which are configured with the Adaptec HBAs. Just last month, SDC added more than 100 additional servers for the Norwegian financial institutions, and as the company moves additional applications to the IP SAN, it expects that by year end it will have 300 servers.

According to Christiansen, SDC is moving many of its applications off of the FC SAN and onto the IP SAN. The company’s mainframe is still on a Hitachi FC SAN and is likely to remain there. “It would be a big job to move it and we’d have to convince a lot of people to make it happen,” he says.

The company’s dedicated data warehousing application that currently resides on an IBM Shark will be expensive to expand on the FC SAN, he notes. “Maybe we’ll look at this application next year,” he says.

By the end of this year, the iSCSI SAN is expected to provide 90 terabytes of storage capacity for 300 servers. In 2006, the company may move its data warehouse application, and it expects to grow its customer base of financial institutions from other northern European countries.

Its IP SAN will be growing with it.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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