Fashionista Favors One-Vendor SAN

Perry Ellis chose a single supplier for its SAN - HP - to avoid interop headaches

July 12, 2003

4 Min Read
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Fashion designer Perry Ellis International deployed a single-vendor SAN -- supplied exclusively by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) -- in order to avoid the interoperability headaches of multivendor storage networks, according to one its top IT executives (see HP Outfits Perry Ellis With SAN).

Ronen Lapidot, director of networks and telecommunications at Miami-based Perry Ellis, says the company picked HP-branded Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) Fibre Channel switches for its new SAN running Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) database software, because it was confident they would work with the servers and storage from HP.

"I've had some experience with multivendor SANs, and it's not a pretty story," he says. "This time, I insisted on getting everything from a single vendor."

While he wouldn't say which vendors have presented such problems, Perry Ellis's previous database infrastructure ran on Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) servers and storage. Without naming names, Lapidot says he has encountered significant "interoperability and stability issues" in the past with multivendor SANs that have required drilling down to the driver level to resolve.

Perry Ellis's perspective vividly illustrates that getting Fibre Channel products from different vendors to work together remains a pain point for customers. The industry, through the efforts of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), has been trying to improve SAN interoperability. For example, several companies staged a multivendor switch demonstration at the Storage Networking World conference this spring (which Brocade sat out, incidentally) (see Users Cheer Interop Demos).Nevertheless, the perception in the user community obviously remains strong that interoperability is nowhere near what it needs to be for enterprises to feel comfortable mixing and matching their FC equipment.

Before putting in the HP equipment, Perry Ellis's Oracle databases were hosted on a Sun Solaris server that was "pretty much end of life," Lapidot says. The company looked at the next generation of Sun's gear and compared that with HP's offering based on Windows 2000 servers.

Lapidot says the overall price/performance ratio of HP's two-server cluster was 50 percent better than a similar one from Sun, though he declined to say what Perry Ellis paid for it. It ended up installing two ProLiant DL580 G2 servers in a fail-over configuration and 1.5 TBytes in a StorageWorks Virtual Array 7410, connected via the Brocade switches.

"I'm very pleased at the way this turned out," he says. "This was the first time we were going with Wintel on an Oracle platform... which was kind of a risk."

Another reason Perry Ellis went with the HP SAN was to accommodate its rapidly growing databases, which include everything from Web services to product development, and electronic data interchange (EDI) to financial data. Its storage needs are increasing even more dramatically now because the company has recently made some large acquisitions: In March 2002, Perry Ellis bought swimwear maker Jantzen Inc., and last month it completed the acquisition of menswear designer and importer Salant Corp."It seems like they grow daily -- all I hear from the DBAs [database administrators] is more, more, more," says Lapidot. "At least with this solution I can just pop in another external storage box and integrate it into the rest of the SAN." According to HP, the VA7140 has a maximum capacity of 6.5 TBytes. The firm's older, external storage system from Sun didn't provide the option to add more storage.

Perry Ellis actually went live with its HP SAN about nine months ago. "I wouldn't have talked to anybody if it hadn't worked!" exclaims Lapidot [ed. note: except his therapist]. But even if the SAN "explodes," he adds, the company has signed a three-year technical support contract from HP, though Perry Ellis hasn't had to use it yet.

Then again, the HP SAN wasn't exactly prt-à-porter. Perry Ellis enlisted the consulting services of both HP and Compaq (prior to the closing of their merger) to get it installed. There were times when as many as 15 consultants worked "some very late nights" to resolve critical issues, according to Lapidot.

Lapidot says the company did consider other vendors, including IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). But one of the major factors that tipped the scale in HP's favor, he says, was the AutoRAID feature of its VA7410. AutoRAID automatically decides whether to place data in RAID 5 double parity or RAID 10, based on how frequently it's accessed. (Most recently used data is moved to RAID 10 for better performance.)

"Flexibility is key for us. Instead of me having to repartition the server and do all this hard work, this thing does it on the fly automatically."— Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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