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SAN Selection

Posted on 2012-03-13
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Last Modified: 2016-11-23
Hi All,

We are a SMB and in the process of purchasing a SAN Solution.

Some considerations are that I plan on implementing VMWare Essentials Plus Kit as I believe that 3 hosts will provide appropriate redundancy for our operation. Initially, I plan on running about 6 VMs, that will include a backup DC, a SQL Server mirror, a DHCP server and a WSUS/print server and a couple of terminal servers. I would like a network file share, but if I have to run it through a VM then that would work as well.

My VMWare hosts will be Dell R610 Servers with two 6-core processors and 64 GB Ram each.

I know that I do not want Fibre Channel.  I think that 1GBs Ethernet connectivity would work for us.

I don't think I will need Data Tiering.

Below are the performance highlights, per DELL performance Analysis Kit:
 -Peak Throughput = 72 MB/Sec (Peak during backups, otherwise it is under 30 MB/Sec)
 -Peak IOPS at 99% = 1007 (again during backups, otherwise it is under 500)
 -Storage Used Capacity = under 1TB (I expect that to grow to about 2TB when VMWare is  
   implemented).
 -Read/Write Ratio = 97% Read and 3% Write

Considering the above stats, I have been looking at and comparing the following products:
 1-DELL EqualLogic PS 4100X with 24 x 600GB 10K SAS drives and 2 PowerConnect 6224
  switches.
 2-EMC VNX5300 with 20 x 600GB 10K SAS drives and 2 Cisco 2960 Catalyst
  switches.
 3-Coraid SRX3200G with 20 x 600GB 10K SATA drives and 2 Cisco 3560E Catalyst
  switches.
4-Fujitsu Eternus DX90 S2 20 x 600GB 10K SAS drives and 2 Brocade switches.
5-I have not started looking at HP and NetApp yet.

At a macro level, I realize that any of the above products will work in our small environment. However, I also realize that there are significant differences in protocol and management options. I have spent a lot of time googling the pros and cons of these products. I think I have run into information overload.

I would like to hear recommendations from your experiences so that I could select the product that would provide the greatest flexibility, expandability as well as the best value.
My budget is around $50,000, that includes VMWare licensing.

Thank you in advance.
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Question by:hareshmelwani
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by:pjam
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I realize your question is what SAN to go with.
However I just wanted to add a comment about your server config, DC\WSUS\DNS\DHCP|Print Server can easily run on one W2k8 64-bit server and not even breath hard.  You will need a 2nd HD for WSUS storage 40 to 80GB depending on how many languages you support.
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by:dlethe
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Well DNS & DHCP are almost ZERO disk I/O, A DC is slightly more then zero.

Frankly you are throwing money away by overconfiguring. (Don't tell me ... Dell helped you come up with the configuration ;)

I would just get a PAIR of decent SSDs and mirror them with a much less expensive RAID controller to handle every bit of that.    

You are going to be I/O bound, not CPU bound, so you are even throwing money away on cores.  With only need for 1TB of data TODAY, then why buy all those extra disks now?  Prices are dropping every day now that malaysia is coming back online.

Heck, there are now even some 1TB SSD solutions in the $5000 range that plug into a PCI-e slot grab you?   120,000 RANDOM IOPS vs 1000 IOPS?

You can get something much, much faster for 1/3rd the price if you think outside the box a bit. (Oh, yes, and it will be more reliable)
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by:andyalder
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As an aside I'd try to drop at least one of the hosts and possibly combine some of the roles to reduce the number of VMs, 3 hosts with 6 VMs spread over them in HA/VMotion = 18 standard Windows licenses, 5 Enterprise licenses or 3-6 datacentre licenses (one per CPU, not sure whether you want one or two CPUs in your hosts).
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by:dlethe
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Andyalder makes another good point.  So did Microsoft AND Dell make a pitch to you?  Not only is the hardware grossly over configured, but so are the number of VMs and the Microsoft tax.

I strongly consider getting different vendors, and would be very much interested in what company pitched all of this to you, because people need to know who is out there trying to rip people off.

(But in fairness, I can think of some situations where you might need all of this, like if you have 500+ PCs and multiple sites, but if that was the case I would have expected you would have mentioned it).
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by:andyalder
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I agree. "we are an SMB" needs qualifying; I'd guess at "a couple of terminal servers" being what will replace older 32 bit 4GB terminal servers, and the other server jobs are pretty minor in a small or medium business but there's SQL and that really needs qualifying, it could be a huge beast processing online sales or a little box that just looks after clocking in and out in a coal mine.
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by:hareshmelwani
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All, Thank you for your input so far.  I realize that what I have proposed is indeed overkill, but I am thinking about future growth.  No one is selling me this.

As far qualifying my comments:
SMB means that we have about 30 workstations, of which about 12 are heavy users of our ERP system. This runs on SQL Server.  The largest database is only about 4GB.  SQL runs on a box with 12GB Ram and 2 Xeon E5530 Processors (again this is overkill as we never use more than 50% of hardware resources). The rest of the workstations are primarily used for email and working with files like Excel, Word, and PDF.
Currently, I have 6 terminal users in a remote office, but I have 2 terminal servers for redundancy.  When I convert to VM, I will probably have only 1.  However, we are about to add another office with about 12 additional terminal users.

Operating system licensing is not an issue as we have volume licenses for Server 2008 and 2008 R2.

I agree with the comments that DC\WSUS\DNS\DHCP|Print Server can be combined.
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by:gsmartin
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Personally, although three ESX servers may be overkill I think going with 10K drives is going to be an issue as you grow.  Your SAN should have atleast 15k drives or SSDs.  For virtualization environments Disk IO is going to be your biggest pain point (bottleneck).  Also, I would recommend a SAN solution with at minimum supports Thin Provisioning; although I prefer Compellent's Auto Teiring capabilities.  Note with 1Gb iSCSI this will also become a pain point as you grow.  Note from a network perspective you will never acheive full 1Gb throughput at best about 65%, given TCP/IP overhead.  Fibre Channel from a SCSI protocol perspective is more efficient than SCSI over TCP/IP.  Fibre channel you can run at 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16Gb/sec; depending on the Fabric you deploy.  Obviously, iSCSI is cheeper but it won't be as flexible, efficient, and reliable.  Understand, in a network environment TCP/IP can tolerate latency, traffic delays, and such.  However, on the SCSI side writing to disk needs to be more constant and fast with minimal latency becuase less tolerant when writing to disk.  Otherwise, your disk performance will suffer, which translates to all your VMs that our trying to compete for Disk IO.  

Since iSCSI is your preference, my recommendation would be to atleast buy a SAN that supports multiple connectivity options (i.e. iSCSI (1 or 10Gb), Fibre Channel, FCOE) as well.  This will atleast provide you options and the ability to upgrade to Fibre Channel or FCOE in the future vs. being restricted.  

Once you have your virtualization environment up and running the potential for you to add additional VMs is at your finger tips vs. having to buy physical servers.  The point is you will be more inclined to additional virtual severs or other virtual machines.  So don't restrict yourself based on current needs.  Architecting a VM environment that can scale is most important especially since you are pooling resources for CPU, Memory, Disk space, and Disk IO.
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by:dlethe
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The largest database is 4GB???  Then why not just get some industrial SSDs set them up for a few RAID1s and enjoy 100,000+ IOPs and 1GB/sec sustained reads for only a few thousand dollars, instead of getting 1/100th the price/performance that uses a FC or iSCSI SAN??
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by:gsmartin
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DLETHE - SSDs are great and everything, and won't recommend it in a SAN configuration.  However, for configuring a reliable virtual environment with HA capabilities you need to use a SAN for the all ESXi hosts in a cluster to share pooled disk resources (i.e. Disk IO, LUNs, etc..).  Implementing a SAN will simplify the overall management of the virtualization environment and allow for better scalability.  

I am not sure the size of the environment you manage, but myself I am beyond the days of building my own special server, storage, and configurations, because I know I can put better components together cheaper than the costly Business or Enterprise class systems.  This only leads to more complicated system and network management.  Especially, know a days where IT resources are streamlined.  it's now about how quickly you can recover from different scenarios and a RAID 1 configuration these days isn't going to cut it.  

You have to have the ability to take SAN snapshots or point-in-time snapshots in order to appropriately recover data.  Or, more importantly have a proper DR strategy with the ability  to replicate data over to a remote site, etc...

Ultimately, your main objective is to implement a proven, scalable, efficient, manageable, sustainable infrastructure.  Because typically a businesses main objective is to grow weither it be adding more employees, additional sites,  and/or by acquiring companies.  Therefore, it's imperative when designing your infrastructure that you take this into account.

For the most part, as an IT Manager myself, you have to sell the business the importance of investing in IT in respect to the health and future of their business.  Most growing healthy companies have this understanding.

So it's important to not take the cheap route, because it will most likely cost you in the future.
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by:kevinhsieh
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The EqualLogic PS4100X delivers about 2600 real world IOPS using RAID 50 in my shop. You can run it for 5 years, maybe 10. I use mine with my PS400E, which is now 5 years old, and the system auto-tiers and load balances between the two units. EqualLogic has never charged for a feature, with the exception of the FS series of NAS front ends, which are of course a hardware add-on. 1 Gb Ethernet really is enough, especially since you have MPIO, which means you get 2 Gb throughput on the PS4100.

Your read/write ratio is off, because Windows machines generate a lot of writes, even when idle, for housekeeping. I am amazed at what me read/write ratio is. I think that it's 30/70, with 70% being writes on the OS volumes. The VM can avoid reads by going to cache, but every write needs to eventually hit the disks.

I have no experience with the other (non Dell EqualLogic) arrays.

The EqualLogic has thin provisioning, clones, snapshots, replication, VAII SAN offloading, load balancing (when you mave multiple member groups), no separate licensing costs for hosts, clients, features, etc., and very reasonable maintenance costs for equipment that is 5+ years old. They have kept complete compatability and feature parity across all of the hardware platforms they have ever shipped. You can take an original PS50E and put it in a group with a PS6510X and they will work together perfectly, as a single SAN. It is also really easy to use.

BTW, just because you have volume licenses, doesn't mean that licensing is taken care of. A physical host needs to have a Windows license assigned to it for every Windows VM that is running on it, and those licenses can't be just moved from host to host. So if you have 6 Windows licenses now, you can assign 2 to each of your 3 hosts, but as soon as you want to move the VMs from one host to another host you are out of compliance, because you can not reassign an OS license from host to host more often than every 90 days, even if you have Software Assurance. I am not trying to tell you how to be legal with the licensing here (a separate question), but I do want to make you aware that it may be much more complicated (and expensive) than what you think.
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* I think you will not need so much CPU in the servers. Just one CPU per server should be enough. Memory is OK. Initially, it is a lot of memory for what you want, but probably you will grow in a near future, adding more VMs, and memory is always a problem, so it is better to oversize it.
* I think vmware Essentials Plus and 3 ESX hosts in a cluster is a good choice. It is also our environment, but...
* But we have everything x2: and that's a good point to invest, if you can. We have a second CPD with another SAN (exactly same model as the "production" SAN, but with SATA disks), another two gigabit switches, cheaper/reused servers, and another independent Essentials Plus license. Here it is important to select a SAN that contains the replication functionality (it is an optional additional license with EMC and Netapp).
* We evaluated EMC, Netapp, Equallogic (from DELL) and HP. We discarded HP soon. Finally we selected EMC, but I think any choice will be OK. Prices could dramatically go down during the negotiation/evaluation process. My recommendation is to get in contact with the netApp reseller ASAP, and try to negotiate with them better prices, so maybe you can implement a DR site, which is a very interesting project.
* I understand that you will keep the SQL Server out of the cluster, not virtualized. If this is the case, and the database is so small, then I also recommend purchasing a SSD to plug it internally.
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by:gsmartin
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There is obviously various direction you can go with purchasing your SAN.  Each vendor seems to have a variety of options to choose from, but that's exactly the problem.  Each vendor has an assortment of SAN controllers than perform at various speeds and either a variety of connection and technology options or are relatively limited such as iSCSI only.  The point I trying to make is that there is only one reputable vendor on the market that only provides one grade of controllers no matter how small or how big you build your SAN.  Plus, has the ability to provide you every connectivity option (FC, FCOE, iSCSI) or only iSCSI.  It also, has the ability to provide you a wide variety of Enterprise features (Thin Provisioning, Automated DATA Teiring, Thin Replication, Fast Track, etc...) or none.  Furthermore, also has the ability to be a NAS and a SAN at the same time, and soon (in the next couple of months) will support deduplication.  This is the most flexible SAN on the market that will allow you to grow into as you require and as your needs change.  

The SAN vendor is Compellent who was recently acquired by DELL and is now known as DELL Compellent.  Compellent over the last several years has taken the market by storm and has been one of the biggest competitors to EMC and NetApp; which was why DELL acquired them.  All other SAN vendors have a variety of price points depending on the size of controller and features.  With Compellent you can either start with one or a pair of controllers and then grow into any of the other features.  Then expand as you need.  Ultimately, it's a platform that allows you to decide at anytime.  

I've been using Compellent for over three years now and it's been the best purchase we've made.
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by:gsmartin
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By the way, with Compellent you can simultaneously use ISCSI, FCOE, and/or FC.  So if today you determine you only want iSCSI and in the future you decide you want to implement Fibre Channel you can without having to shutdown iSCSI.  In the past, this was an issue with EMC, hopefully they over came that restriction on their Clarion line.

The key here is having a SAN that can grow with you vs. having to replace it the future; especially with virtualization.  Any extra cost (within reason - controllinle based on base features) would be worth having the flexibility and capability of this type of SAN.

Also, note Compellent also supports Gold Imaging, Continous Replays (point-in-time snapshots), Continous Replication, etc...  Replays (snapshots) use available undefined SAN space plus you can have replays of LUNs every hour, minute or every 15 minutes and can go back as far as your storage soace can afford (weeks, months, etc...).  You can expire out other LUN replays at any interval.  Also, Compellent has APIs that tie directly into vCenter making it very simple to create LUNs on the fly and tying them to VMs and more.

If you running SQL, Exchange, or any other type of database you can place an agent that allows you to briefly pause the database during replays to ensure data integrity.   Another feature unlike other Thin provisioning solution their server agent cleans up white space in windows RDMs that eat up space that's not actually taken by data.  This is an important feature to ensure optimum Thin Provisioning.

I know this is Compellent information overload, but hopefully you see the point to at least consider it.
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by:hareshmelwani
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All, Thank you for your comments and time.  I really appreciate the feedback.  Your input will help me make a better decision for our organization.<br /><br />I am closing this question.
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