A SAN in the NIC of time
National Informatics Centre (NIC) was saddled with information
overload. With its heterogeneous mix of servers, it had difficulty managing
storage in an optimal way. A SAN solution took care of its storage problem and
reduced administration costs
The National Informatics Centre (NIC) was one of the first organisations to
choose a state-of-the-art technology for storage. As the IT solution provider
to the government of India, NIC was faced with a brow-crinkling problem. Its
data volumes were increasing uncontrollably, like bacteria growing wildly as
a result of a scientific experiment that had foundered disastrously. It had
to devise a new way for storage management.
A SAN solved NICs problem. It is now able to administer and manage the
vast amount of data stored in the organisation. It found that the SAN helps
reduce maintenance costs, and debottleneck the network. With the inherently
redundant and stable architecture, the SAN deployed in NIC provides excellent
NICs Storage Problem
NIC provides solutions for the IT needs of the government of India at all levels.
The organisation offers a range of services, including digital certificates,
computer-aided paperless examination systems, development of e-Governance applications,
hosting of Web sites, and other network services.
NIC is also designated as the powerhouse of e-governance initiatives
in India. In addition to its e-governance operations, the organisations
services range from consultancy, software design and development, office automation
and networking services to training, video conferencing, CAD, EDI, multimedia
and Internet services.
Besides these offerings, a range of services across a large number of government
organisations and departments results in mountains of data. And, such a large
base of information requires to be stored, retrieved, archived, entered into
databases, managed, monitored, kept secure, and backed up.
The company set up a satellite-based nationwide communication
network called NICNET, with over 2,500 nodes all over the country. The national
and state capitals are interconnected by high-speed fibre links with redundancy
to provide a resilient IP network. Each of these nodes acted as points of creation
or information and many were vital for business.
- The company: NIC provides solutions for
the IT needs of the government of India at all
levels. The range of services includes digital
certificates, computer-aided paperless examination
systems, development of e-Governance applications,
hosting of Websites, and other network services.
- The need: The amount of information and
data that was generated was large. This had to be stored, retrieved,
archived, entered into databases, managed, monitored, kept secure, and
- The solution: The organisation deployed
a SAN solution for better control over the systems and to protect the
integrity of the data. It would also allow easier backup and failover
- The benefits: The SAN solution helped
to lower administrative and management costs, raised resource utilisation,
and provided fault-tolerant data storage and access without compromising
on security and performance.
DAS Proved Insufficient
The organisation used servers with DAS-based storage to store critical information.
But the daily management, storage and backup of data proved quite a daunting
For each individual server with DAS, our IT staff needed to perform disk
health-check and data backup on a daily basis. From time to time, we also needed
to conduct disk and tape storage planning to anticipate for rapid data growth,
says Dr N Vijayaditya, Director General of NIC.
Whenever a new server ran a new application, our workload just doubled
because data storage and related administrative tasks were not centralised,
|The solution is a dual fabric SAN assembled
- Brocade SilkWorm 2800/3800 and 12k series and 24k series fabric switches
- Hitachi HDS 9960 and HDS 9990 disk storage and Storage systems like
3510 from Sun and Flx 280 from StorageTek at various state centres.
- LTO tape drives from IBM, StorageTek, and backup software like BrightStor,
Backbone and Legato are being used at NIC headquarters and state centres.
Resource Utilisation Suffered
While the workload increased with the growing number of servers and software
applications, resource utilisation headed in the opposite direction. As disk
storage capacity needed to be estimated whenever a new e-governance application
was launched, it was not surprising that in many instances planned storage spaces
were not fully utilised.
Some applications entail ever-increasing disk space consumption, while
others might just have limited growth. Allocating the excess storage space from
one server to another, however, was not practical. Without a high speed network,
shared disk space over a LAN is of limited use, particularly for data-intensive
operations, explains Vijayaditya.
We were having more servers, and inevitably the cost-per-storage unit
ratio increased continually, he adds.
The storage management challenge was even greater since NICs data centre
functions in a heterogeneous environment. Among the 150 servers that formed
a block of computers, the platforms included Microsoft Windows 2000/NT, various
flavours of Linux and Sun Solaris.
Since data storage administration differs from platform to platform, a variety
of support skill sets were required. Deploying a staff force for each skill
set made the implementation inflexible and expensive. The demand for 24X7 uptime
further complicated matters. Given the number and variety of hardware and software
utilised, it was difficult to meet this objective cost-effectively, according
to Madhava Reddy, NICs Senior Technical Director.
SAN to the rescue
To overcome the challenge, NIC decided to deploy a SAN solution. This would
imply better control over the systems and data integrity. It would also allow
easier backup and failover strategies.
NICs SAN architecture comprises a number of Brocade SilkWorm 2800/3800
and 12000 series and 4800 series switches, with HDS 9960 and HDS 9990 for online
disk storage, IBM LTO-DL/40 and StorageTek tape drives for backup.
Interconnecting with NICs 150 servers, the dual fabric SAN forms a high-speed
storage network that immediately plugs the inadequacy of the original DAS devices
and provides resilience capability against storage device failure.
Operational Efficiency Benefits
The SAN solution helped lower administrative and management costs, raised resource
utilisation, and provided fault-tolerant data storage and access without compromising
on security and performance.
With the SAN in place, were able to reduce our administrative work
through storage consolidation to just a few disk and tape storage systems, which
are centrally managed by software. Now the efficiency of data management, storage
and backup is much higher, and administrative costs have gone down significantly.
Provisioning of storage to various applications and on-demand allocation of
storage space has become much easier, says Reddy.
Resource utilisation has also improved. With disks
and tapes centrally accessible through the SAN, wastage
of excess storage space is reduced to a minimum, resulting
in considerably lower cost-per-storage unit ratio,
The company claims that different platforms often come with incompatible high-availability
technologies. Prior to having a SAN, implementing high-availability features
for direct storage devices for these servers was no easy task. With SAN however,
all the resilience requirements demanded by the system are either in-built,
or available by simple configuration.
Impressed with the immediate success of the SAN, NIC has already expanded its
infrastructure from the centralised SAN to multiple SANs at its various state
units. It also plans to build a disaster recovery centre to manage risks from
disasters such as floods or fire.
With updates from Priya Jain