Archives || Search || About Us || Advertise || Feedback || Subscribe-
-
Issue of May 2006 
-

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

  -  
 
 Home > Cover Story
 Print Friendly Page ||  Email this story

Enterprise storage

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 NIC’s 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 uptime.

NIC’s 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 organisation’s 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.

In A Nutshell
  • 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 backed up.
  • 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 strategies.
  • 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 task.

“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,” he adds.

Solution Highlights
The solution is a dual fabric SAN assembled from:

  • 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.

Heterogeneous Environment

The storage management challenge was even greater since NIC’s 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, NIC’s 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.

NIC’s 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 NIC’s 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, we’re 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,” Vijayaditya adds.

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.

Future Course

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

 
     
- <Back to Top>-  
Untitled Document
 
Indian Express - Business Publications Division

Copyright 2001: Indian Express Newspapers (Mumbai) Limited (Mumbai, India). All rights reserved throughout the world. This entire site is compiled in Mumbai by the Business Publications Division (BPD) of the Indian Express Newspapers (Mumbai) Limited. Site managed by BPD.