AgResearch has a wide range of equipment and huge demand for storage to cover a great variety of applications, from basic financials to advanced research work.
Research projects at the Mosgiel-based company come and go, so the storage requirement for any particular system will vary widely from one month to the next, says Phillip Lindsay, general manager of information services. “With the work we do on genomes, for example, we might need 300GB for a few months on one machine, then the requirement will be gone.”
This situation strongly indicated a need for some form of consolidated storage resource, shared by many of the establishment’s processors in a flexible way. In addition AgResearch’s processors use different operating systems, and management of such heterogeneous environments is trumpeted as a strong point of SAN technology.
At the beginning of the year AgResearch implemented a Compaq SAN, which now has 1TB of storage. With its fibre channel transfer it provides high I/O rates — much higher than the most advanced SCSI protocols. Unified backup is another advantage; using NetVault software, from US-based company Bakbone.
AgResearch wanted to use a range of techniques to ensure constant availability and integrity of the storage resource, with dual controllers, multibus failover, and mirroring and RAID striping on the disks themselves, for different kinds of application. It was not possible to get all the operating systems to support these facilities completely, Lindsay says — but the restrictions, while inconvenient, were not a serious handicap to practical use of the SAN.
The Compaq/Digital OpenVMS operating system was the most behind in this respect, but will be catching up with a new release to be implemented at AgResearch shortly. The research establishment also runs Compaq’s True64 Unix, Linux and NT.
At present, the SAN is managed using Compaq’s specific tools, which assist in partitioning the storage among platforms and in monitoring traffic and flagging error conditions.
These tools are intended to be interfaced with Compaq’s Insight server management, but AgResearch has not yet installed Insight, “so for the present we need to manage the SAN separately from the rest of the system,” says Lindsay. It works well enough, but Insight will be installed in due course, he says.