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Issue of November 2004 
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IP SANs

IP SANs and the Indian enterprise

iSCSI, Gigabit Ethernet, Serial ATA, and the power of Linux. IP SANs combine these cutting edge technologies to give benefits comparable to Fiber Channel (FC) SANs. A tête-à-tête with B. Chandrashekar, Country Manager - India, Intransa reveals the upcoming technology. by Anil Patrick R

Can you comment on the storage issues that Indian organizations typically face today?

Traditionally, enterprise IT was inward-facing. Access to infrastructure was there only for customers and their applications. This meant that if there was a problem or changes had to be performed, operations were not affected.

However, as the operations became more internet-based and on-demand in nature, Indian companies started interfacing with the global economy. In the global economy you are bidding for global projects at competitive rates—whether it's IT enabled services, software projects or manufacturing.

This is the time when a paradigm shift happened and the luxury of a planned downtime disappeared. The opportunity for doing a forklift change to scale up storage or compromises on enterprise capability are not possible in this scenario. The storage needs to be scalable and give on the fly data management capabilities.

Another problem is that customers using traditional solutions like DAS need to scale up now because of regulatory and compliance issues. This is necessary to maintain competitiveness on the global market.

But can't these organizations always deploy FC SANs?

That is not always the case. When businesses are bidding for global projects, they cannot afford to have new expensive technology. The need to scale up the data pool for this is very expensive when considering traditional FC-based SAN solutions.

A close look at the typical storage vendors today will reveal that they reworked their mainframe storage technologies to get their present monolithic storage products. These devices are still expensive and proprietary in nature. Organizations cannot afford to get locked into this mainframe kind of storage architecture. It will go against the price competitiveness of their projects.

How can organizations get over this cost-competitiveness dilemma?

SANs provide block level transfers that provide native level block access. Earlier, this was possible only with FC SANs that are expensive and complex.

Vendors were using fear, uncertainty, and doubt to make SANs as a proprietary stack where only their certified components can be used. In addition to these, the devices also call for personnel with FC expertise to implement and maintain the SANs.

So the need of the hour is to have enterprise class scalable IT infrastructure which can dramatically reduce cost and complexity. Both are equally important. This is where IP SANs come in.

IP SANs ensure that users have a low cost-low complexity solution. They can scale up to the capacities that they require as their needs grow.

What are the technologies that make up an IP SAN?

The SAN concept was earlier implemented using expensive FC. IP SANs provide the same SAN functionality but use IP instead of FC. This is not a radically new technology but rather ensuring that two practical technologies are integrated together. We are primarily using iSCSI and Gigabit Ethernet in the IP SAN.

IP SANs use iSCSI, Gigabit Ethernet, SATA drives, and hardened Linux to get a low cost high performance SAN solution. Instead of using FC, the server's Gigabit interface is used along with iSCSI.

Is this the same as having an iSCSI interface in the mainframe type of boxes?

That is not an efficient method. In those models, there is a backend proprietary engine and front end iSCSI interface. It is not built from ground up and will not give a modular scalable approach.

What are the benefits that IP SANs can provide for Indian businesses?

The first factor is affordability. Cost of acquisition and TCO of IP SANs are significantly lower when compared to FC SANs.

Flexibility is next. IP SANs are built on an architecture that is not monolithic. In standard solutions, the controller and disk array are on a single block. But in some IP SAN solutions, the controller and hard disks are separate components. This translates to easy exponential storage growth in the future. With this architecture, you can address a variety of scaling up and scaling out situations.

IP SANs are very useful for a country like India where most medium enterprises have 12 to 20 servers. Earlier, this meant putting in three to four hard disks per server or a NAS.

Taking backups or adding new storage involves pulling data through the LAN to be put it into a backup server. This means LAN choke ups in addition to downing each server and backing it up. And this usually means eight to ten hours of downtime. Since IP SANs use their own network, there are no downtimes due to backups or upgradation.

IP SAN is an end to end IP based SAN solution, and it allows existing IP skills to be leveraged. Most organizations have a good control over IP networking and existing personnel can now manage data.

Do you see iSCSI replacing FC SANs?

Fiber channel will exist, but IP will be the way ahead. I would say that if your organization does not have FC SANs, do not venture into it now. It is the time for IP SANs in India.

Anil Patrick R can be reached at: anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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