Maximizing Storage Value with IP SAN

Faced with a crumbling IT infrastructure and slashed budgets, one wired municipality turned to IP SANs to keep critical systems up and running.
Posted January 12, 2004

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

While Fibre Channel (FC) Storage Area Networks (SAN) have enabled the industry to move towards a more centralized and simplified architecture, they are sometimes criticized due to being expensive to implement and requiring specialized technicians. Enter IP (Internet Protocol) SAN's, touted as more affordable and much easier to operate.

This proved to be the case at the City of Ogden, Utah. Pressing business necessity forced Ogden to face up to a radical change in its traditional direct-attached storage (DAS) environment: a huge MIS deficit due to budget cuts; IT staff cut from 29 to 11; and an aging infrastructure.

"It became evident that we needed to reexamine and significantly reduce our IT spending," said Jay Brummett, CTO of the City of Ogden. "Further, we had key projects scheduled, such as a utility billing system upgrade, homeland security projects and automated figure print systems. Fortunately, IP San's offered significantly reduced cost, increased user satisfaction and ease of implementation."

IT Trendsetter

Ogden City, the largest city in North Utah, has a population of 80,000. It is situated at the base of the Wasatch Mountains, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City. It hosted several events during the 2002 Olympics, including the downhill and curling. Ogden is also recognized as one of the 50 most wired cities in the nation. It provides the IT infrastructure for a two-county, seventeen jurisdictional E-911 Communications Center and Crime Intelligence Unit. This IT infrastructure extends to 32 satellite sites around the city. Police & fire stations, E-911, public works facilities business and community centers are served via TI and Gigabit Ethernet.

Rapid growth in its computer population meant that IT supported approximately 50 Win2K and Linux servers, three Hewlett-Packard HP/UX servers, and 1200 desktops. Old core switches and hubs deployed at the network's edge were in dire need of replacement. Many aging servers were also in need of upgrade.

"Ogden's data storage requirements are expected to grow in the next few years into 6 to 10 TB as our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and public safety systems continue to expand," said Brummett.

The city decided initially to install a traditional FC SAN in order to consolidate one TB of storage it used for various databases and Microsoft Exchange. HP, EMC, StorageTek and Xiotech each proposed entry-level solutions. EMC and StorageTek were eliminated due to initial cost and perceived complexity. HP StorageWorks MSA1000 appealed to the City due to cost, integrated FC switch, ability to scale, and compatibility. Xiotech Magnitude was more expensive, but built-in virtualization, no LUN masking, the ability to pool disk capacity and stripe across non-identical disks was compelling to the city.

IT consulting firm (Satel Inc.) introduced Ogden to an IP-based SAN by Lefthand Networks that is based upon Network Storage Modules (NSM). Unfortunately, Lefthand uses a proprietary connectivity protocol called AEBS (Advanced Ethernet Block Storage). AEBS was developed prior to the adoption of the iSCSI standard. The City decided to move forward with Lefthand as an iSCSI complaint driver was in testing.

As well as Lefthand Networks, the IP SAN consisted of a XioTech Magnitude and an HP MSA1000. Result: cost per megabyte dropped from $0.62 to $0.18, utilization rates rose from 50% to 75-80%, and the city now manages triple the storage capacity with less than half the staff. Further, it has shorter backup windows, has improved its Mean Time to Recovery and increased the bandwidth availability on the existing production LAN/WAN.

To provide one TB of fully redundant storage, five NSM 100 units were purchased. They were connected with a 24-port Cisco 3750 non-blocking 10/100/1000 Ethernet switch. Each NSM 100 is 1U form factor unit (includes controllers and storage enclosures) providing 500GB of storage using 4 hot swappable ATA drives.

Four of the NSMs are configured using volume-level resilience ensuring that one failed unit will not result in loss of data. This automatically replicates a redundant copy of all content on alternate NSMs, thus the 4 NSMs would yield 1 TB of usable data storage. A 5th NSM is configured as a hot spare to automatically replace any failing NSM. The NSMs are connected using standard Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure and function in a peer-to-peer arrangement. The SAN is physically isolated from Ogden's existing production LAN/WAN so performance and security are not adversely affected by network traffic.

"The whole process from start to finish required less than four hours from the time we broke the tape on the cartons until the drives were online and ready to be loaded with data," said Brummett. "Calculated cost per megabyte has dropped from $0.62 to $0.18 without factoring in the reduced cost of management or the leveraging of existing Ethernet know-how."

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