Wisconsin Public Service

Utility plans to swap out obsolete Dell SAN storage in consolidation project

December 21, 2002

4 Min Read
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Mike Waldrop feels like his first SAN became obsolete almost before he even powered it up.

As network services project manager at Wisconsin Public Service Corp., a power and gas company based in Green Bay, Waldrop is responsible for overseeing the utility's storage infrastructure. About a year and a half ago, it was installing its first SAN-attached storage, and it had chosen Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) PowerVault 660F/224F Fibre Channel storage arrays.

The 4-TByte SAN, which is connected via two Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) 16-port SilkWorm 2800 switches, is a prelude to a larger storage consolidation project that WPS has planned for 2003. Eight servers are attached to the SAN, including two Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) SQL Server clustered server pairs.

But just as WPS was getting ready to turn it all on, Dell announced its OEM partnership with EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) -- and soon after, Dell announces it would phase out the 660F, just eight months after its introduction (see EMC and Dell Double-Down and Dell and EMC Do a Deal).

"I thought we had asked all the right questions," Waldrop says. "We were training on the 660 systems when the Dell-EMC agreement was announced."What's more, according to Waldrop, the PowerVault 660F has been plagued with various hardware glitches: RAID controllers and Fibre Channel I/O cards have failed on several occasions, he says. Dell has shipped WPS replacement parts, but Waldrop says the components have all been refurbished, not new.

A Dell spokeswoman confirms that the company is no longer selling the PowerVault 660F, but she says Dell continues to support it and will work with customers to upgrade to a Dell/EMC Clariion CX system if appropriate. She also says she isn't aware of the issues Waldrop says he encountered with the 660F and also notes that refurbished replacements parts are provided under standard warranty contracts.

Such product transitions are inevitable in the technology business, and every vendor must try to assuage disgruntled customers who get caught in the middle. But for Waldrop, the experience has made him wary of making his next storage purchase from Dell.

"In general, I'm nervous about buying a product from a third-party vendor... and I have some misgivings about buying storage from a server vendor," he says. "Dell is starting to take over some of the manufacturing of the Clariion [with the low-end CX200 line]. But it's hard to say where that OEM agreement is going to go. If we went with Clariion, we'd probably get it directly from EMC."

The next phase of WPS's SAN rollout, to occur in the first half of next year, will involve migrating 250 servers off direct-attached storage. To prepare for the big move, WPS has installed storage resource management (SRM) software from TrelliSoft, which was recently acquired by IBM (see IBM Snaps Up TrelliSoft).WPS picked the TrelliSoft tool, now called IBM Tivoli Storage Resource Manager (TSRM), primarily because it supports Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL) NetWare.

"We needed a product to get a handle on how much storage we were using on all our platforms -- and who was using what," Waldrop says.

Currently, WPS is using TSRM to monitor disk space on about half its hosts. Besides finding a surprisingly large number of MP3 music files, it's using the tool to test out network-wide "soft quotas." This allows the servers to automatically increase the amount of storage an individual user is allowed to access, even when they've hit their limit. "Right now, if a user hits a limit on the weekend, they have to call one of the IT staff to up their disk limit," Waldrop says. With soft quotas, the user can keep working with the provisionally allocated disk space. WPS is also looking at using the TSRM to generate automated "you've got wasted space" emails to its 3,000 end users whenever it detects old files -- or, say, a huge cache of MP3s.

At this point, WPS hasn't decided which storage platform it's going with. But, Waldrop says, "We're looking to buy a more enterprise-class system" -- possibly an EMC Symmetrix, IBM Shark, or Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Lightning.

Not EMC's Clariion CX600? Waldrop says probably not, because the Clariion is comparatively limited in the number of hosts it can connect. A single CX600 array can support up to 128 hosts, according to EMC. "In a single fabric, we could be pushing the upper limit with a Clariion," he says. "And we'd prefer not to have to deploy multiple fabrics."WPS is also just beginning to evaluate its options for which Fibre Channel switch platform it's planning to use for the larger SAN. It will keep the existing Brocade switches in place through March 2003. Waldrop says the utility will probably consider director-class switches from Brocade and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), as well as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which is just bringing its first Fibre Channel switches to market (see Users Cautious on Cisco and Cisco Beta Site: 'We Love It!').

"What we really want to do is simplify the network as much as we can, and to eliminate single points of failure as much as we can," Waldrop says.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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