Advice on storage (SAN, NAS or DAS)

Hello,

I have an upcoming server refresh that will be happening and just wanted some advice from those who've dealt with SAN/NAS etc. on what is recommended given my situation. currently I have four servers: 1 Windows 2003 Domain controller, 1 Ms SQL server and 1 VMware ESX3.5i server using DAS (and running three VM's) and 1 server running Untangled Linux firewall. The DomainController, SQL SErver and Untangled Linux Server are due to be replaced, the ESX server is less than a year old.

I've been loking at a SAN but i'm beginning to think it's more than what I need for the environment. Originally i was thinking of purchasing a dedicated SQL server and another VMware server (this one is an HP DL 360G5 with three NICS and 12GB RAM/Dual Quad-core) and then running VM's on the iSCSI SAN but now i'm reconsidering due to complexity and cost.

I am the only IT staff here so it's all up to me to maintain it and ease of administration is important to me. The reason i was looking at an iSCSI SAN was to centralize the data and point the VM's to and do vmotion etc. it but I think it's going to cost me more tha $20K to do a SAN properly probably more like $50K or more.

So now i'm thinking of just replacing the servers noted and going DAS and using double-take to replicate the physical servers to a VM for redundancy and DR.

Any suggestions on this situation would be helpful.

thanks,
SchnizzleAsked:
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eabeukesCommented:
Unless you are seriously hammering the SQL server you could virtualise everything by getting another similar or identical DL360 (if possible due to VMtotion issues with different CPU's) and use something like SvSAN (http://www.stormagic.com/SvSAN.php) to do replication between local disks giving you redundancy and VMotion. Alternatively look at the MSA2000's in iSCSI format. I think for $20k you could easily get a MSA, another DL360 and the foundation version of ESX for 2 hosts.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Thanks for responding. I don't think SQL is getting hit that badly now, it is a financial/ERP type of system that the SQL is supporting but there's not that many users. however, we are planning on creating another database that will house and power GIS applications, so this is why I was looking at keeping a dedicated physical SQL server.

I'm nervous about iSCSI, i don't want to outlay the $$$ for an iSCSI SAN and find that the performance is not as good as it was when we were DAS!
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eabeukesCommented:
If you are then keeping the SQL box then look at getting a MSA2000i - that way you can cetralize all your storage as well as getting the added benefit of vmotion when you go to the full blown ESX+vCentre. SQL is perfectly happy on iSCSI and the GUI on the MSA is almost identical to the GUI of the DAS storage. This also means you can use 1U servers like the DL360 series and save on space, power and cooling.

I do understand your reluctance in going to iSCSI / SAN but with modern GUI's and tools there is very little admin overhead over DAS storage. Maybe ask you HP reseller for a trial unit?
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eabeukesCommented:
Just had another question on a similoar track - if you are going to stick to DAS disks on a bigger file server or 3 maybe look at http://www.starwindsoftware.com/free - this gives you iscsi for your VM's (2TB limit per install of the software) as well as all the comforts of DAS..
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Thanks. Just took a look at the StorMagic product which looks interesting, have you used this before and most importantly how reliable is it, what's the  support like and can it be trusted for production?

thanks.
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eabeukesCommented:
We've tried it internally on lab systems so can't comment on production use. Seemed quite stable though. Never had to contact support in the 2 months of testing which I suppose is good! You might be better off with a more mature product like the iscsi one I mentioned for production use.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
hmm okay and what about starwind? How much of have you used that?
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eabeukesCommented:
Rolled out to a few clients and it works really well for them. Two use it om vmware farms and one for exchange 2007. Support is food as well on the rare issue.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Interesting, what hardware did you use for the SAN server?
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eabeukesCommented:
Nothing huge, dual CPU and a few gb of ram. Hardware raid cards help, and I would stick to intel nic's - lots of performance headaches with other brands! Sata disks are ok as long as you realise the need for lots of disks to get the equivalent performance to sas drives.
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dnilsonCommented:
Can stronly recomend the DEll MD300i iSCSI SAN, and one or more (REDUNDANCY) gi ethernet switches (like Dell Poweredge 54xx series).

Took our Vmware farem from 6 internal SAS drives (RAID 5) running 6 VMs OK, to the SAN running 13 guest per Host , for 4 hosts superbly!

compare prices, the Dell MD3000i is quite inexpensive comapared to others.

I wouldnt go DAS.  Done that, wont again.  The HBA tend to be a huge bottleneck as compared to the dual gigbit iSCSI busses

If you PERFMON before and after you can measure the inprovements in reduced virtual swap, disk read / write queues. CPU queses, all of which translate to increased CPU performance and increased CPU cycles for applications and users.
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dnilsonCommented:
OH, and once you build this, start vitualizing nmore servers, SQL, DCs the whole lot!

I would keep the firewalls dedicated, but there is no reason you couldnt .... in fact here is the download page for a VMware untagle appliance ...

http://www.untangle.com/Developers/VMware-Appliance
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andyalderSaggar maker's bottom knockerCommented:
The disks you have in the DL360 G5, are they single or dual ported? If they're dual ported you can move them to a MSA2324. That would give a saving on buying new disks for the SAN and you could use ESXi on USB sticks rather than expensive hard disks for the hypervisor.

I can get MSA2000i cheaper than MD3000i although it's close, you can't compare the web prices because everything is cheaper through resellers. You could also use SAS rather than iSCSI if you have room in the server for SAS HBAs, MSA2324sa supports up to 4 hosts since it has 4 host ports per controller - saves on the cost of switches for the SAN and you have 4x3Gb lanes rather than 1Gb that you get with iSCSI.

Never heard of DAS being slower than SAN (for similar priced kit), DAS is fastest, there's no latency imposed by moving the disks further from the CPU by seperating them with a bit of fiber or whatever.

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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
The disks in the DL360G5 are six single ported 72GB 2.5" SAS 15K drives, dual controller and a RAID10 array. I'll take a look at the Dell MD iSCSI SAN series. Never heard of running the hypervisor off a USB stick,how reliable is this and is it dificult to setup? Don't really like the idea of someone being able to yank out the usb stick and crash the whole bloody thing!
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eabeukesCommented:
According to the Qucikspecs (http://h18006.www1.hp.com/products/quickspecs/12476_div/12476_div.html) the 360 G5 has an internal USB so best to put it there, physically out of the way. Look at http://blog.mechanised.com/2008/07/how-to-create-your-own-bootable-esxi.html to create a bootable USB stick for ESXi - same process works for vSphere (ESXi 4) as this is what I use at home. Works exactly the same as installing to disk (I think the disk install actually uses the same process to write the image file to the disks and uses the remainder for VMFS space..)
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Hmm interesting, I wonder does ESX run any slower if you run it off the USB?

By the way, thanks all for your input, all your feedback helps!

I'm about to go check out the DELL MD SANS but I wonder do they do thin provisioning? It sucks having to allocate a bunch of storage upfront when creating a VM.


thanks,
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andyalderSaggar maker's bottom knockerCommented:
You might look at LeftHand logic VSA if you want thin provisioning SAN, runs as a virtual machine under VMware to let you use the server's internal disks and you can setup two of them and they mirror them. Obviously you can't use VMotion on the VMs that run VSA. There's a free demo version you can download on HP's site, I have the laptp demo on my PC.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Okay so if i understand you correctly, you would:

1. Install ESX on the HP DL360
2. Create a VM and install the VSA software on it.
3. Use the VSA software to create a virtual SAN and do thin provisioning/iSCSI through that?

is that right?
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
So if i go the SAN route wth two HP DL360's, can someone give me a dummies guide to what i need hardware/software wise? I haven't dealt with SAN/iSCSI before and I don't want to "experiment" to get a solid, production reliable environment up & running. For argument's sake let's suppose I purchase an HP MSA2000 or Dell MD3000i, what's the suggested config and what are some good gigabit switches to use for this? Any other suggestions are helpful and my budget is tight so I need to keep costs in mind.

thanks all!
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andyalderSaggar maker's bottom knockerCommented:
Above is right about using VSA.

Procurve 1400-8 will do, cheap as chips but the ports are on the front - still you can always mount it at the back of the rack. I've heard a few whispers about only setting jumbo frames to 4k if you use this switch though. They're completely dumb unmanaged switches but that's all you need for dedicated switches running in an iSCSI SAN.

Hardware wise wire both controllers to both switches and both ports on a dual ported (or 2 single ported) nic in the servers.

I don't know how to do iSCSI with VMware, someone else can answer that bit.
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dnilsonCommented:
Recomed the Dell Poweredge 54xx series iSCSI switches

Am mobile now but can provide some links and diagrams and previous EE posts on the config

Dell has an excellent VMware doc I can't find ok the VMware site

Google Dell MD3000i VMware

Then look down for the first PDF that comes up or I'll send link later
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
ok thanks.If I have a dedicated SQL box, is it safe to use the iSCSI initiator in windows 0r should I get a iSCSI HBA card put into the machine?
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Yes, dnilson, some diagrams would be extremely useful.
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dnilsonCommented:
All my SQL servers have been virtualized using the VMware SCSI adapter (LSI logic in my case)

That way none of your servers need to deal with iSCSI, the host handles that and makes the virtual storage available for the guests.

Should this not be your course due to business or politics, simply install a dedicated gigbit nic and use the microsoft I initiator, but I'd virtualized that puppy too.


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andyalderSaggar maker's bottom knockerCommented:
Dell don't make the switches, they don't make the MD3000i, do they actually make anything at all except badges to put on the front?

Not that it matters, HP don't make the disks they put in their servers and IBM don't make 5500 series xeons.
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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Right now i've got two SQL databases sitting on a Dell 2400 Poweredge and about 50 users accessing the SQL server through a finance app. The server is not that busy and is on a RAID 5 array with 15Krpm drives. the server is typically not that busy......I wonder if it's a good candidate for virtualizing? Mkaes me nervous though! What would you do - would you create a VM with SQL and place the DB's on the SAN?

I realize this thread is getting long and I should divvy up points but I still need all of your advice!

thanks,
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Paul SolovyovskySenior IT AdvisorCommented:
You may also take a look at the MSA 2000 fc which is the fibre channel option if you think that iSCSI will have I/O issues.  

The nice thing about a SAN is that you dont' have to use it for ESX specifically, you can always connect the SQL Server directly to the SAN and have better throughput and redundancy (if using MS Cluster).  

I would also take a look at the NetApp 2020 which can use NFS for the VMs whcih I found is a bit faster than the MSA2020i (have installed quite a few of these as well) but both would make a good choice.  The nice bit about the Netapp is that you can use CIFS license to replace your file servers but it is much more complicated than the HP or Dell gear.

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SchnizzleAuthor Commented:
Thanks all for your input!
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