Nielsen Media Research

Plans to consolidate nine SANs with 12 (count 'em, 12!) Brocade SilkWorm 12000s and AppIQ software

September 2, 2003

4 Min Read
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Nielsen Media Research is quickly moving to the next phase of its storage network deployment, with a blueprint for creating one large SAN in place of several smaller ones.

The TV ratings company is planning to consolidate its nine independent Fibre Channel fabrics with 12 additional Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) SilkWorm 12000 switches, and it's using SAN management software from startup AppIQ Inc. to help with the transition.

Today, Nielsen's primary SAN infrastructure comprises about 60 Tbytes of storage connected across more than 600 active ports. In its existing data center in Dunedin, Fla. -- near the company's Tampa operations headquarters -- it runs two 64-port Brocade 12000s, four 32-port 3900s, 18 16-port 3800s, and four older 1-Gbit/s switches.

Over the next few months, Nielsen will be moving to a brand-new 20,000-square-foot data center 10 miles away in Oldsmar, Fla. As part of the relocation, the company is seizing the opportunity to merge its previously isolated SANs to simplify management and to pave the way to migrate more of its direct-attached storage to the SAN.

"The way SANs got created here was on a project-by-project basis," says Rob Stevenson, storage strategist at Nielsen Media Research. "Now we're looking to get down to three fabrics: One for the labs, and a two-tiered dual fabric for the production environment."Stevenson describes the architecture as a "super-edge/core-edge" design. At the core of the SAN will be two 12000s. At the "super edge," the initial buildout is expected to include 12 12000 switches, in dual-fabric configurations, connected to Nielsen's storage arrays and tape backup libraries. The company expects to deploy 12 3900s (also in dual-fabric configuration) for server connectivity.

"Each of the storage frames we're putting in has up to 70 Fibre Channel ports -- that means you're beyond the 32-port mark," he says. "So we're doing two 12000s per storage row."

Nielsen's primary storage systems suppliers are EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW). The company's SAN-attached storage consists of Sun-branded Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Lightning 9960 and 9980 systems; three EMC Clariion CX600s; and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) EMA 1000 and 1200 systems. In its SAN lab, Nielsen is running boxes from EMC, Hitachi, and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK).

Managing that heterogeneous mix can be a real challenge, Stevenson concedes. "It can get overwhelming on the provisioning side."

To help get its arms around the whole shebang -- and to assist with the move to the new data center facility -- Nielsen is using AppIQ's SAN management software.For now, Nielsen is using AppIQ's software primarily in a "tactical" mode for reporting, device discovery, and to manage the SAN topology, Stevenson says. For certain tasks like provisioning, the company uses EMC ControlCenter as well as other vendors' tools, including Hitachi HiCommand.

"There's only so much of the storage frame manipulation you can do through AppIQ right now," Stevenson says. "And you have to keep the native tools for setup -- things you do once, then never do it again." Nielsen, which started evaluating AppIQ's software about eight months ago, has bought a 250-device license.

Stevenson says he expects to realize the full value of the software once AppIQ can associate application-level events with other elements in the SAN. Currently, the software's "resource dependency trees" provide a visual display of how everything connected to the SAN is configured. A coming version of AppIQ's software is supposed to be able to map Sybase Inc. event data directly into the resource dependency trees, which will help Stevenson and his team more quickly identify and fix performance and capacity issues with its database applications.

At that point, Nielsen is planning to broaden its use of AppIQ to give other administrators role-based access to only the portion of the SAN fabric that is relevant to them. That way, Stevenson says, database administrators in each individual business unit can resolve a particular problem independently. "The AppIQ product supports collaboration between the groups," he says.

Another plus in AppIQ's favor, according to Stevenson, is that its software is based on the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA)'s Storage Management Specific Standard (SMI-S), which defines a core set of features. "The SMI-S standard is really where we're going now," he says. "It gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of avoiding vendor lock-in and easing training for our storage architects."So far, every major storage vendor in the industry has pledged to support SMI-S -- but if it happens that they don't, they won't make it onto Nielsen's short-list in the future, Stevenson says. "If they want to compete for our dollars, they need to be open-standards based."

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

For more on the topic of SAN management software, tune in to Byte and Switch's Webinar, "Storage Automation: Heavy Lifting In the SAN," on Thursday, September 4. For more information and to register, click here

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