Get Smart About Virtual SANs

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Mar 7, 2008


Virtualization used to be all about servers. These days, however, its power is being extended right into the Storage Area Network (SAN).

Think virtualization is all about servers? Learn how one university took its SAN virtual and increased performance and reliability along with capacity.

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The Technical University (TU) of Kaiserslautern in Germany, for example, expanded and virtualized its SAN based on elements from VMware of Palo Alto, Calif. (an EMC company) and SANmelody thin provisioning technology from DataCore Software Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"On the technical side, SANmelody software delivers extensive functions for wide availability and protection for our VMware servers," said Dr. Tonnis Pool, head of the departmental applications group in the data center at TU Kaiserslautern. "With VMware on the application side and DataCore on the storage side, we can implement virtualization today on several levels in much less time and ensure that our systems are more readily available. This has made our VMware environment failsafe."

Large Technical Campus

TU has more than 10,000 students and their computing needs, as well as those of the faculty, are addressed by a data center staff of around 30. Until recently, the campus managed a non-virtual Fibre Channel (FC) infrastructure. This setup included three VMware ESX servers, with storage provided by HP MSA1000 disk arrays and a Clariion 4700 array from EMC (Hopkinton, Mass.).

But with capacity reaching its limit, data center management decided it was time for change.

"Beforehand, we had no data mirroring, no highly available storage for VMware and were in need of a performance boost," said Dr. Pool. "Our setup made administration complex and restricted our efficient use of human resources."

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The university worked out a plan to increase availability and add flexibility to the SAN by harnessing the potential of virtualization. For the virtual SAN expansion, TU spent several months researching the marketplace before narrowing the field down to DataCore and FalconStor Software Inc. of Melville, NY. In the end, VMware and DataCore provided the right combination to increase capacity, improve access rates, heighten security and reduce storage costs.

"The price/performance ratio won out in comparison with competing products," said Dr. Pool. "The proposed package, deployed by DataCore partner SHE Informationstechnologie (SHE IT) AG, suited our needs and met the time frame we had in mind for conducting such a project."

Systems Integrator SHE IT of German already had experience at the facility on the VMware side. It recommended DataCore based on several factors. SANmelody's caching features, in particular, provided the speeds demanded by the TU's challenging application set.

The initial SANmelody test bed consisted of two HP DL380 servers with dual Xeon 2800 processors running Windows Server 2003. This environment supported up to eight application servers, and provided failover, mirroring and thin provisioning. According to Dr. Pool, testing progressed smoothly and the system performed as anticipated.

After completing the testing phase, IT moved it into production. This involves several additional elements. To accelerate I/O, 6 GB RAM were made available for caching for the DataCore software, and a 16-port FC switch from Brocade Communications Systems of San Jose, Calif., was employed as part of the SAN fabric.

Capacity expansion was achieved via two EONStor RAID arrays by Infotrend Technology (Santa Clara, Calif.). This added almost 12 TB via SATA disks. The entiriety of this storage is administered by the DataCore software. SANmelody also took care of data migration from the old to the new hardware. This was done without business interruption.

The expanded SAN can now host up to 15 TB, of which 8 TB is currently utilized. The combination of three physical ESX servers and DataCore together host more than 50 virtual server units running Windows and Linux.

Pool and his staff report multiple benefits. Thin provisioning, for example, has greatly extended the usability and capacity of the entire system. In the past, LUNs had to be assigned to specific servers and applications. Now, virtual volumes are dynamically made available to a much wider base of virtual servers, which has considerably raised utilization rates.

"By automating storage management, we save not only time, but the utilization of our hardware is clearly better," said Henri Schmidt, who is in charge of servers and storage at TU Kaiserslautern's data center.

He reported that in the old solution, he had to define the size for each LUN and then assign a fixed amount of storage for each system.

"Today, because I can overbook the memory system, a 2 TB LUN for a server is all that is necessary," said Schmidt. "This not only alleviates ongoing administration, it minimizes the chance of making mistakes."

The end result is that the new system has enabled TU Kaiserslautern to increase the efficiency of storage and IT administration, use hard disk capacity more optimally and generate new virtual servers simply and rapidly.

"SANmelody works dependably and has improved our data center economics as well as our availability," said Dr. Pool. "This architecture makes storage management simple as it achieves hardware independence."

This article was originally published on Enterprise IT Planet.

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