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Which SAN to choose? ISCSI or Fibre Channel? NetApp, Lefthand, Equallogic

I am looking to do some server consolidation. I have approx. 10 Windows Servers (Exchange, SQL, Citrix) that I plan to virtualize using VMware ESX Server. My plan is to have the VMs reside on a new SAN, but there are alot of choices out there. Since I plan to have approx. 5 VMs on each physical server ( (2) HP DL385 w/ 8 GB RAM) I wonder if iSCSI is a good idea. I know that you can get TOE cards, but they arent much cheaper than Fibre HBA. Here are what some of my vendors are suggesting:

1. Equallogic PS100E

2. Lefthand NSM 160 (Stack of 3)

3. NetApp FAS 270c (This will allow Fibre and iSCSI)

I like the idea of attaching my two ESX Servers directly to the NetApp SAN with Fibre...

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
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1 Solution
David GeorgeIS/Network Security OfficerCommented:
We are planning a very similiar consolidation of servers and have done an abundant amount of research.  I work for a not-for-profit research institute and budget is a big concern.  To satisfy our needs and still get the equipment that satisfies our requirements, we went with an iSCSI solution.  We evaluated Equallogic, Lefthand, and EMC.  Our team concluded that the Lefthand solution best fits our needs due to the management and replication software that comes with it.  This will satisfy some of our DR/BC requirements and allow us to replicate data on the SAN to another SAN in an offsite location.

We will be using ESX servers (VMotion) to manage our VM's.  You might want to look at a product called ESX Ranger for backing up live (running) VM's.  It has really helped us alot.  We are also planning on using Doubletake, which is a replication based software specifically made for Exchange or SQL to make a hotspare copy of your exchange environment in case of a failure.  

I hope this helps with your planning.  You are definately on the right track!
george -

sounds like you have a great plan.  I've used double-take and its always done me well, but wanted to let you know about another option (in case you haven't seen this already):  XOSoft:

Their WANSync products are just great.


Duncan MeyersCommented:
My comments in your other question: still apply...

To add to that: there is **only one** iSCSI HBA supported by ESX 3.0 - the QLogic QL4010. If you don't have one, then you'll need to use the software iSCSI initiator supplied with VMware - and take the processor hit that results. Remember that each TCP packet will raise a processor interrupt - and if you add the load of your storage traffic to your network traffic then you will hit a performance bottleneck (notwithstanding iSCSI's lower speeds). Haqving said that, you will almost certainly find that your physical servers will be working less hard than you might have expected, and you'll be able to build more VMs than you initially expected. I know of a company running 30 VMs on two old IBM PIII servers quite happily. The limitation that most people hit with VMware is not processor, memory, disk or network bottlenecks but disk space. You need lots of disc space on your SAN to provision lots of VMs. Bear in mind that the average data storage growth for most organisations is 60% year-on-year. That is one scary number, and it means that you must plan for expandibility over the three to four year expected life span of your storage kit.

The EqualLogic's box lack of expandibilty should rule it out immediately. It tops out at 3.5TB raw. End of story.
The LSM 160 would be a better bet, simply because you can expand it. But I note that it uses SATA II drives, which will prove to be a performance bottleneck.
The NetApp FAS270c (are you sure about the 'C'? It usually indicates a clustered NAS head on NetApp systems) is your best bet for expandibility and performance (using FC) , bearing in mind the disk cost as discussed in your other question.

If it were my choice, I'd go with the NetApp box and fibre attach it to your HP servers. But I'd strongly urge you to look at the SAN hardware from Hitachi Data Systems, EMC and Sun/StorageTek to get a better overview of what's available.
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Don't rule out HP storage - my EVA6000 has been rock solid for over a year

Duncan MeyersCommented:
Don't get me started on "virtualised" storage!

Only joking.. :-)
We are still using VMware ESX 2.5.3 and we have 2 Hba's on each on of the Two ESX, attached to SAN, EMC, and they are performing very well !

They are using Emulex !

Best Regards !
EVA's not really virtualised storage. Wonder whether meyersd would fume if I said San Melody ;)

But anyway as NTtechGuy says don't rule out HP although I would point you at the MSA1510i for iSCSI or MSA1500 for fibre channel since they use SCSI rather than fibre channel disks which have almost the same performance and cost about half the price.
David GeorgeIS/Network Security OfficerCommented:

Thank you for the valuable information and insight.  This is an area of compatibility that I had not given much though to. However, I did find this quote in the HCL documentation on the VMWare website -

“Note: Hardware-initiated iSCSI is only supported experimentally with ESX Server 3.0. That is, it is
not recommended for use in production environments. Software-initiated iSCSI is supported
fully and is the recommended configuration for production iSCSI deployments with ESX Server.
The following devices have been tested for this release:”


Duncan MeyersCommented:
>Wonder whether meyersd would fume if I said San Melody ;)
You better believe it!


I'm sure it works - its just that I've never actually seen it work (we've picked up a couple of customers who have chucked it out in frustration).

>However, I did find this quote in the HCL documentation on the VMWare website -
Oops - good catch - I'd forgotten about that little gem.
FAS270C probably your best choice. One thing I can suggest if you decided to go with FAS270C; before buying FC license and invest in FC-SAN infrastructure (switches, HBAs.) try out iSCSI. I know in NetApp, you can combine multiple Ethernet interfaces and trunk it as one big pipe (2,3Gbit speed). This should give you a good speed. Else you still have the choice to purchase the FC license and buy your SAN infrastructure after that.

I also heard that NetApp released new low cost product lines for small offices “storevault”. If it includes the same functionality, you can conceder looking at it:

I know that storagevault comes with most of the great feature of NetApp storage such as:

- RAID-DP, (double parity) technology prevents data loss in the event of a second drive failure.

- Snapshot, technology provides point-in-time images of the entire file system.

- FlexVol, which allows capacity to be allocated on the fly without disrupting users or applications.

bonadio171Author Commented:
I went with the FC FAS270. The pricing came way down and I got 2.5 TB usage storage (all FC) for the same price as the lefthand san.
Duncan MeyersCommented:
No worries.

Perhaps you might consider splitteing points in the future?
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