SAN eases management for AUT

The Auckland University of Technology didn't think it could afford a storage area network (SAN), but by using OEM storage equipment - gear that's rebadged by other vendors - a solution came within its reach.

The Auckland University of Technology didn’t think it could afford a storage area network (SAN), but by using OEM storage equipment — gear that’s rebadged by other vendors — a solution came within its reach.

AUT leases all its IT equipment and gets the opportunity to replace technology every 36 months, says IT director Calum MacLeod. Last year a lot of file servers with direct-attached storage came up for renewal.

Storage demands were roughly doubling each year due to more students, more experienced and demanding users and increased use of the web.

“In the past we’ve put storage limits on users depending on the subject,” says MacLeod. “On average we gave students 5MB of online storage and staff 50MB, but that average wasn’t enough.”

The IT department was already providing an archiving service whereby it would put material on CD-ROM for staff and students. But there was still much material that needed to be kept on the network.

“What we needed to do was separate the file servers from the storage so that we could manage the number of file servers to cope with the volume of users and we could manage the storage independent of that to cope with the volume of data.”

As well as separating those two functions, the IT department also wanted to be able to add storage without impacting users.

“With direct-attached storage in a file server, you had to take the file server down, add a hard drive [then] bring the server up. It could take up to an hour just to reboot the server. Then you would have to do administrative work for the storage side and effectively the server could be down for half a day and staff would have to work overnight to do that.”

AUT considered network-attached storage (NAS), dedicated storage appliances that sits on the network.

“Network-attached storage had limitations,” says MacLeod. “The software built into the NAS solutions we looked at only allowed 1000 concurrent connections and we would have needed multiple NAS boxes. Also, we didn’t find their performance was as good as a SAN.”

But IBM’s SAN option was way out of AUT’s price bracket and MacLeod says while some of the others, such as HP, were competitive, they were just rebadging LSI Logic boxes — which turned out to be AUT’s final choice.

At the time of the purchase some of the SAN solutions from major vendors also didn’t work with Novell NetWare, which was a must. “Dell was very competitive but they weren’t going to be supporting Novell until November which was too late for us.”

Taking into account discounts for education, and being the first LSI Logic site in New Zealand, MacLeod says AUT got around half-a-million dollars’ worth of SAN (disks and switches) for almost $250,000.

Storage reseller Datastor provided the LSI Logic disk and two Brocade fibre channel switches with dual data paths to new Cyclone Computers servers.

The servers also have some data storage but if it’s data that needs to be available all the time, it’s on the SAN.

MacLeod says ease of management is the major benefit of the SAN. “We can add capacity to a volume on the fly and can shift unused storage from one file server to another without taking it down or offline.

“Also if a file server fails and we’ve assigned a backup server in the cluster, another server becomes the processor. From a user point of view they can still access the data.”

Installation took six weeks over the Christmas break. Data was simply copied across the network, and a tape back up was done just in case of failure.

The main challenge was getting the SAN to work with NetWare 6.

“You have to tune how the network operating system talks to the storage in order for it to happen efficiently. It wasn’t hard to do but it was hard to discover what to do.

However, after talking to Novell and doing some work in their lab we were able to tune it.”

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Tags storage

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