Customers Pave The Way For IP Storage

Vendors are finding innovative approaches from customers and using them to develop the technology.

IP-based storage may not have lived up to its hype, but this could be the year it finally arrives. For the first time this year, acceptable performance, big vendor support, and customer demands should all meet to bring IP-based storage to the mainstream.

Microsoft's bundling iSCSI protocol support inside Windows; EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM promising iSCSI integration with its systems; and host-bus adapters for server support from vendors such as Adaptec and Intel could mean the late arrival of IP storage this year, Dianne McAdam of the Data Mobility Group says. "With the big gorillas supporting IP storage, it's a new market," she says.

Customers are driving IP storage implementation more than anything else. Two customers balked at or got fed up with the cost and complexity of Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs), and one even brought two vendors together for his backup and recovery needs--and those two vendors will sell a bundled system as a result.

At Wells Fargo Corp., a department's 12-hour daily backup of 19 servers was becoming prohibitive in the face of 24-hour banking. Erik Ott, business systems consultant and assistant VP at Wells Fargo, knew the old DAS framework contributed to such cumbersome backup, but as a bank, Wells Fargo was "not on the crust of technology."

He got approval for a low-cost approach that didn't require the same upper-management signatures as a high-cost Fibre Channel SAN would have. First, Ott found CommVault Systems Inc.'s Galaxy backup and recovery software at a conference. Then he chose an iSCSI IP storage appliance from StoneFly Networks Inc., because that vendor had been around the longest among the competitors and passed some tests set up by Ott. The combination got Wells Fargo's backup process down to four hours--and, Ott says, "it runs like a dream."

Unknown to Ott, Stonefly was concerned about the time and effort required to integrate Galaxy with its storage concentrator appliance. The hardware vendor was pushing the iSCSI protocol for IP storage appealing to departments and small and medium-sized businesses with little IT staff for such administration. CommVault got on board, created a shrunken version of the software, and bundled it with a new StoneFly appliance.

Happy with the improved backup process time, Ott was glad to be a StoneFly reference. "But the new product was news to me," he says.

The vendor will unveil its StoneFly Backup Advantage appliance this week, providing disk-to-disk backup for accelerated backup and recovery times. The iSCSI protocol converts blocks of data into a form that won't choke the IP network, allowing Advantage to work efficiently with servers. A storage concentrator from StoneFly connects servers to a bunch of hard disk drives. CommVault's Galaxy Express backup and recovery software is already integrated within Advantage, and the appliance sells for $29,795 for a terabyte of capacity.

"It should take about 45 minutes to get Advantage up and running," says Bob Boggan, VP of marketing and business development at StoneFly. "Our customers don't want to be IT experts."

What some smaller businesses don't know wouldn't hurt them. "Little guys might not ever know they're running Galaxy Express," says McAdam at Data Mobility. "Nobody could have gotten the two vendors to cooperate if they didn't want to, but Wells Fargo definitely set the stage for CommVault and StoneFly."

Home Banc Mortgage Corp. considered StoneFly last summer, but didn't want a front-end appliance connected to another bunch of hard disk drives. Akil Woolfolk, network operations team lead at the $6 billion lending company, chose an all-inclusive iSCSI storage array from EqualLogic Inc. instead. While his team is still getting all the necessary servers on line with the IP storage, he's glad he chose iSCSI as the storage protocol to connect offices spread across Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

According to Jimmy Hudgins, a senior systems administrator at Home Banc, just adding to a Fibre Channel SAN already running off of a CX 600 system from EMC Corp. would've cost the lending company more than three times what the IP storage based on the EqualLogic PeerStorage Array 100E cost. Something had to be done, because like the DAS problem at Wells Fargo, Home Banc was running out of storage on some servers, while others had 10 to 20 Gbytes of capacity that was never used.

The 100E's network requirement for Ethernet was a deciding factor. "For scale, training, and cost," Woolfolk says, "iSCSI was a no-brainer."

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