Schooled in Virtual SANs

By "thin provisioning" with DataCore, the Technical University of Kaiserslautern in Germany is basking in automated management and new levels of storage efficiency.
Posted January 31, 2008
By

Drew Robb

Drew Robb


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

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

"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 over 10,000 students and their computing needs, as well as those of the faculty, are addressed by a data center staff of around 30 people. 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 by HP Inc. of Palo Alto, CA, and a Clariion 4700 array by EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, MA.

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."

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 timeframe 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 completion of the testing phase, IT moved it into production. This involves several additional elements. In order to accelerate I/O, 6 GB RAM was made available for caching for the DataCore software. A 16-port FC switch from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. of San Jose, CA, is employed as part of the SAN fabric.

Capacity expansion was achieved via two EONStor RAID arrays by Infotrend Technology Inc. of Santa Clara, CA. This added almost 12 TB via SATA disks. The entirety 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 combo of three physical ESX servers and DataCore together host over 50 virtual server units running Windows and Linux.

Pool and his staff report multiple benefits. Thin provisioning, for instance, 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.

This article was first published on EnterpriseITPlanet.com. To read the full article, click here.






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