IP SAN Goes to Yale

Yale School of Architecture turns to IP SAN to cut costs and simplify management

October 25, 2006

4 Min Read
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Storage vendors like to lump customers into tidy groups by size or vertical market, but many organizations dont fit into prefigured categories.

Take the Yale School of Architecture for example. It's part of a large organization, but with about 300 students, staff, and faculty, it's not quite a department. It also has the rapidly growing storage needs of an architecture or engineering firm -- without the budget.

That left senior systems administrator Robert Liston, the sole manager of the architecture school's storage, to figure things out from the ground up when he moved from direct attached storage in 2003. Liston ended up with about 10 Tbytes of LeftHand Networks IP SANs running Windows Server 2003 R2, and he put VMware's VMotion to good use to complete his storage consolidation.

Here's how it happened. At first, Liston's preferences were for a NAS or Fibre Channel SAN. Despite his school's working with lots of large files for CAD and other specialized applications, Liston had to dismiss NAS because of the university's IT setup.

"NAS wasn't going to meet our needs," he says. "We wanted to make sure security would be tight. The easiest way to do that was to secure our servers at the block level, not at the file level. Any volume we mounted through iSCSI could be directly formatted to NTFS (Windows NT file system) and we could apply our security. We could also enable compression right in NTFS. You can't do that at the file level, it has to be the block level. It was also easy to use relatively old software [in his case IBM Tivoli Storage Manager] to back up everything."Then he considered a Fibre Channel SAN, but got sticker shock when he found out what a few terabytes would cost after throwing in switches and HBAs.

"We looked at EMC, but in order to get the failover and redundancy we wanted, they suggested two Fibre Channel switches," Liston says. "That was phenomenally expensive. It would have cost a quarter of a million dollars. Since we had gigabit [Ethernet] switching, the iSCSI driver allowed us to connect storage directly to the network and an IP SAN cost about a quarter of what EMC wanted."

He purchased about 3 Tbytes of Network Storage Module (NSM) 100s from LeftHand, which was still a new kid on the block back then. (See LeftHand Picks Up iSCSI.) That replaced direct attached storage, making it easier for his users to access files and for him to manage his storage.

"I literally have two management consoles, one for [VMware] Virtual Center and the LeftHand central management console [CMC]," he says.

After his initial SAN, Liston was down to three servers. That number eventually grew to 10, and he has since added about 7 TBytes of new LeftHand SANs, including NSM160s built for high availability and performance last summer. (See Xyratex Nets iSCSI OEMs.)He now has 13 LeftHand systems clustered by hardware type -- the NSM100s in one cluster, NSM150s in another, and NSM160s in a third. "I have different pools, but they show up in the same management console," he says. "I can move pools from one cluster to another by grabbing it in CMC and dragging it to another cluster."

To move virtual machines from one server to another, Liston uses VMware's VMotion. VMotion requires networked storage, but the product lets users move virtual machines while their applications are running. "When I virtualized servers, I left my connection to the NTFS partitions and literally ghosted my server right into a virtual machine," he says.

Liston also came to the aid of his colleague in the geology department, who ran out of capacity and needed a terabyte or so to do backups. "So I just started up my CMC, created a new volume with 1 Tbyte and shared it right out to him. He backed up his data to me across the campus network in under a day, repartitioned space and copied it back over."

Liston recommended that the geology department adopt a setup like his, but even two groups in the same university have different storage needs. "In the end, he bought two Nexsan SATAbeasts and is replicating offsite," Liston says. (See Nexsan SATABeast Roars .)

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Nexsan Technologies Inc.

  • Nexsan Technologies Inc.0

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