Firm combines Fibre Channel, iSCSI to improve backup time and consolidate hardware

May 9, 2007

3 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Engineering firm Timmons Group has slashed backup times by two thirds and opened the door to some major consolidation by deploying Fibre Channel and iSCSI in a single storage array.

The seeds of the firm's storage overhaul were sown three years ago, when Timmons reviewed its IT infrastructure in the aftermath of the HP-Compaq merger. Bryan Moore, Timmons' IT manager told Byte and Switch that, at that time, the firm relied on a 1-Tbyte Compaq RA 4100 SAN.

Like many firms, Richmond, Va.-based Timmons' data was growing at an alarming rate. "We do lots of computer-aided design (CAD) and geographical information system (GIS) stuff like aerial photography and digital imagery. These image files are huge, enormous," said Moore.

As HP was about to pull the plug on the 4100, Moore and his team started looking for SAN alternatives, eventually choosing a 3-Tbyte Clariion CX300 from EMC, ahead of offerings from HP and NetApp. "It was competitive pricing -- the Clariion was [comparatively] new at the time and they were pushing the product," he said.

The exec explained that he uses replication software and disk-to-disk features on the CX300 to cut his backup times: "A full backup now takes us about six to eight hours. Before it would have taken upwards of 22 to 23 hours."Prior to deploying the CX300, Timmons backed up all of its data to tape, whereas now Moore takes a clone of the data using EMC's Replication Manager software and sends this off to disk. "It's quicker because it's disk-to-disk," he said, adding that the CX300 also uses 2-Gbit/s links compared to the 4100's 100-Mbit/s links.

Although backup times were improved, and the Fibre Channel CX300 worked well for Timmons' database data, Moore realized that there was a crucial piece missing. "With the CX300, there was no iSCSI," he said, adding that this would have enabled him to open up additional LUNs for file-based data.

More and more vendors are now pushing iSCSI-based solutions out to the masses, citing the technology as a cheaper alternative to Fibre Channel. (See iSCSI Gang Talks Big, Virtual Iron Inks iSCSI Deal, and 10-Gig iSCSI SANs Set for Takeoff.)

Last fall Timmons added EMC's CX3-20 iSCSI module to the CX300, a move that Moore says has paved the way for a major server consolidation. "It saves us an enormous amount of cost in hardware," he said, explaining that the module has already allowed him to decommission a dozen Compaq M370 file servers from his infrastructure.

The 12 servers, which were used to store Word documents, PDF files, and Exchange 2000 data, were worth around $100,000, similar to the value of Timmons' deal with EMC for the CX300 and the CX3-20.Timmons was also able to free up another 4 CIFS servers by deploying an EMC NAS 501 gateway on the CX300 two years ago, and Moore is now looking to remove seven more file servers from his infrastructure. "One of the driving forces behind NAS was that we are implementing Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS)," he said. (See Cisco Accelerates WAN Adoption.)

By linking the NAS gateway with Cisco WAAS software, Moore hopes to remove a file server from each of Timmons' seven satellite offices, and consolidate the data back to headquarters.

This is also an area where the exec would like to see EMC crank up its efforts over the coming months. "I would like to see them team up more with Cisco around iSCSI, I would like to see more integration there," he said.

The exec told Byte and Switch that he is not unduly worried about Timmons' data growth, at least for the next three years. The firm now has a total of 17-Tbytes available on its SAN and NAS, of which Timmons is using less than half.

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Network Appliance Inc.0

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights