University Graduates from DAS to SAN

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When it came time for Fairleigh Dickinson University to upgrade its storage environment, IT officials weren’t content to simply upgrade the existing infrastructure. Direct-attached storage (DAS) and tape backups were proving costly and difficult to manage and maintain, as was an aging EMC Clariion 4700.

The university’s goal was to create a backup system for faculty and staff laptops over the network, as well as improve its disaster recovery processes, said Brian Domenick, director of information systems and technology at FDU in Teaneck, N.J.

After doing its due diligence, FDU chose to replace its EMC Clariion 4700 with a StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array 8000 from Hewlett-Packard to create a centralized storage environment. The university also added HP MSL6060 tape libraries for backup and ProLiant Blade Servers for its e-mail system.

The EVA 8000 “was the best deal all around for our tape libraries,” said Domenick, although the decision wasn’t just based on the price. “The EVA was unique in how it stored the actual information across all the disks. We were concerned that a SAN, when we utilized it, would have potential bottlenecks.”

The EVA 8000, he said, does not require that each disk be part of a set, unlike other SANs, which require storage of information with a particular application. The EVA 8000 stores the data across the whole array.

“You have the potential for a lot more parallel activity across the disks,” Domenick said. “If you’re trying to write information to one disk, you get benefits in terms of being able to push the data out across many disks, versus just a few disks.”

The EVA 8000 uses FATA, a lower-cost, high-capacity drive that stores 500 gigabytes on one disk drive, noted Natalya Yezhkova, a research manager at IT research firm IDC. It uses multi-tiering, and the most critical information is usually stored on the Fibre Channel disk drives, she said, adding that EVA is HP’s most successful product line.

“It’s scalable and has the ability to combine two different disk drives within one system,” said Yezhkova. The FATA-Fibre is used for less critical information, and “the ability to combine both kinds of storage in one system is beneficial,” especially for small- to mid-sized organizations.

The EVA family also offers enterprise-class features like virtualization and advanced data protection, which Yezhkova said is probably the most attractive feature for end users besides the scalability. The line experienced 19 percent sales growth last year, she said.

“As storage needs grow, companies don’t want to upgrade their systems constantly. With EVA you can start small with few terabytes but then scale up; you don’t need to have the hassle of installing any new system,” since it scales up to 120 terabytes, she said.

For Domenick, that has been critical. “Pretty much every time we implemented a new application it meant [purchasing] a new server, and then we had to be concerned about storage, which adds costs and we had to plan ahead,” he said. “With the SAN concept, we could buy servers and not have to worry about space in advance. We could grow the file system as we need it.”

The change has allowed Domenick’s staff to perform tasks more efficiently. Before, if they had to add disks, it meant potentially having to reformat the RAID array to make it one physical array and then re-dump the information back from tape or somewhere else. It has also allowed staffers to be more dynamic in allocating storage, he said.

“Now they can go to the console for the SAN and tell it to expand the volume, and depending on the operating system, it may just involve a reboot in the worst case, or simply a command … to tell it the space is increased, which is lot quicker than having to deal with hardware to minimize or eliminate downtime,” said Domenick.

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