Recommended SAN configuration for our business needs


We are a small-med sized business and plan on implementing a SAN into our infrastructure. We are needing a SAN to host about 10 virtual machines, SQL DBs and some file sharing. Our SAN needs are very minimal, and we probably only require 2-4GB of storage at the moment, but I would like the option to scale the hardware for future needs.

About a year ago, we were looking at Dell SAN pricing from 10k-20k for a very basic SAN configuration, and I am still hoping to stay in this price range. Due to the restricted budget, this leaves out fibre channel as an option, so the SAN must be iSCSI (Also, I'm not sure if we'd ever see a difference in performance, given our limited needs).

So, my question to you SAN  pros is what SAN do you recommend (including any switch hardware) for the needs I outlined? Please let me know if you require any additional information in regards to our business environment.


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I would recommend looking at QNAP.

They are very inexpensive, but pack a lot of features and power.  You can use iSCSI for your virtual infrastructure.  With iSCSI you could use just about any IP switch, but I would go with a managed one.
Aaron TomoskyDirector of Solutions ConsultingCommented:
Check out nexenta. For under 18tb (of drives, not usable post raid space) its free. Great as an iscsi or NSF target for VMware.
Cláudio RodriguesFounder and CEOCommented:
I have to agree. For small deployments I used QNAP with VMware ESXi and works perfectly.
And the model I used, the 439 Turbo, you can get for less than $700 so even if you add 4 x 3TB drives for a total usable size of 9TB it will cost you less than $2000 for the whole thing.

Cláudio Rodrigues
Microsoft MVP - RDS
Citrix CTP
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Talking about SQL-DBs, especially when they are quite busy, you will not be happy with iSCSI and GBit-ethernet because of the latency. I would recommend you a NetApp-filer. They are multiprotocol and can deliver iSCSI, NFS, CIFS and FC. The smallest (FAS2040) should be in your budget and you can scale them for your needs. If you don't want to buy FC-switches, you can also hook-up FC directly to one or two hosts, we've done this several times and it works as it should. With the FAS2040 you get all protocolls licensed, so it is up to you what to use. I'd also recommend you to get the A-version. This is a active-active-cluster. Also for performance get a system with 12 disks.
Cláudio RodriguesFounder and CEOCommented:
I think before testing and knowing anything about his DBs, it is a bold statement to say he will not be happy with performance.
It is like saying you will not be happy with a BMW vehicle.
Sure I will not if my needs ask for 15 seat capabilities...
If all I need is 4 seats and to be reliable as a daily driver the BMW will fit the bill. :-)

With iSCSI you can bind multiple NICs together to get more than 1GB bandwidth.

If you direct attach your FC host and SAN you introduce a single point of failure.  If you choose FC you should use a FC switch.  Otherwise, it is like connecting your server directly to a workstation with a crossover cable.   Sure it will work, but it reduces your capabilities.  Of course, if that is all you need/want, then use this configuration.

iSCSI has been used very successfully for virtual and SQL environments for several years.  When iSCSI was first introduced, there were problems and concerns, but those have been pretty much answered.
As I stated above, he will not be happy if using iSCSI over GBit with a busy SQL-server. The problem here is not bandwith but latency, that is quite big from the view of a SQL-server. Bonding GBit-links wouldn't help here either, as with bonding you don't get a multiple of GBit when working from only one host. Every connection will get only a max. of 1 GBit. Connecting FC directly to the server isn't necessarily a single point of failure. SAN-devices have more than only one FC-link. If you put 2 single-port-FC-HBAs into your server and connect both to the SAN, you won't have more SPOFs than with a FC-switch. With the NetApp-filers we can connect up to two servers fully redundant, capable of multipathing and failover as it would be connected to two FC-switches, so absolutely no degradation of capabilities in any way.
My recomendation is still the same, take a close look on a NetApp FAS2040. It should fit your budget and your possibilities are open in all ways, may it be that you use iSCSI or FC. If iSCSI doesn't fit your needs, you will always be able to upgrade your servers with FC-HBAs and if needed some FC-switches to run a FC-SAN.
Cláudio RodriguesFounder and CEOCommented:
Again, without knowing anything about his environment how can we make any claims regarding performance? I have several customers running SQL DBs over iSCSI without problems. The same I can say about other customers that indeed experienced issues with SQL on iSCSI.
The key thing is they were two DIFFERENT types of customers with very different DB needs. I can stretch that to my main area of expertise that is RDS. Many customers will have no issues with virtualizing RDS Session Host machines where for others physical is the only way to go. Again the workloads are completely different and the reason why it works perfectly for some and not for others.
I am 100% confident SQL applies, meaning we cannot simply state that in 100% of the cases SQL servers running over iSCSI will not perform. As he mentioned 10 VMs we have a hint this is a small environment probably. If that is the case there is a chance his SQL server is not being hammered at all.
I would take the time to test and even get an iSCSI demo unit from QNAP. If it proves not to be sufficient than I would look at more expensive solutions.
Going for a Porsche when you need a KIA is overkill IMHO.
And assuming he needs a Porsche off the bat is not the way I would go about this. :-)

My 2 cents...

Cláudio Rodrigues
Microsoft MVP - RDS
Citrix CTP
@tsmvp: I haven't stated anything else, as I said, with a busy SQL he could have problems with iSCSI. I know exactly what you mean with different workloads with different needs, I'm working at a company where I am responsible for enterprise class hosting, building lots of VMware-clusters and seeing tons of different needs. I worked with SAN/NAS from EMC, NetApp, IBM, OpenE and Nexenta. The author said, he is not sure which way to go and that his budget is 10k-20k. As he will be using this environment for business, he will need some decent availability. Given this information the mentioned FAS2040 could be a perfect fit, as he could try out any protocol without extra invest, be it knowledgewise or moneywise. Beside the basic SAN-functionality he will also get very good snapshot-functionality, deduplication and a ton of other features that can really be very helpfull in daily business without any extra-cost. There are also possibilities to get a demo-device from NetApp, just ask your NetApp-partner. In some cases there is also the possibility to get a right-of-return based on a specified testing-catalogue.
You might look at IBM's SAN offerings.  A few years ago their DS3400 was in your budget range and you could go either the iSCSI or fiber channel route with the chassis.  You could get a fully redundant system for your price range.  And it would also be expandable with EXP3000 appliances.
mangamonsterAuthor Commented:
Thanks all for your recommendations. I have a lot of research to do now that I have some great leads. I'm going to leave this open for little while longer until I can go over all of the info in this thread.

We are also considering a Dell MD3200i. Will cost around 11.5k with 6x 1TB SAS drives. Would ya'll suggest us going with a Dell PowerConnect iSCSI optimized switch to pair with the SAN, or am I fine using our HP ProCurve 2510G-48. Not much traffic on the switch, and about 7 hosts are connected to it.
I would suggest the iSCSI optimized switch.  Actually a pair of them for redundancy as long as it is within your budget.  If not this year, then you can add it to next years budget.

Sometimes budget constraints require you to build out the failover/redundancy over time.
You won't need an "iSCSI-optimized switch". Just make sure, your iSCSI-LAN is separated: Own VLAN and own IP-subnet. The iSCSI-optimization is nothing more than QoS.
Generally speaking, I like to keep systems with the same vendors if possible.  This reduces the finger pointing in the event of problems.  If you own Dell SAN, Dell Switch, Dell Server, then if there is a problem then you know if is a Dell problem and they own it.

If you put a HP switch in the mix, their could be finger pointing as to the source of the problem.

This is only a personal opinion, but if there was a problem I would rather not have to put up with Dell blaming the HP switch, and HP blaming the Dell SAN.  In all likelyhood, there would not be a problem, but I like the piece of mind of only having "one throat to choke".

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mangamonsterAuthor Commented:
Thanks everyone for your detailed suggestions. We are going to look into both QNAP and DELL for our SAN needs. I've learned a lot, and thanks again!
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