Dells iSCSI SAN is

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2007-09-07 Print this article Print

a Boon for SME Storage"> Once the physical installation is complete, you must complete additional tasks so that you have the IP addresses set for the ports, configure the logical drives, download and install the iSCSI Initiator and then configure the logical disks so that they appear as disks attached to Windows. Once you have the SAN addressing and disk configuration taken care of, you can attach to the SAN from multiple servers. In this case I had the fifteen disks appear as a virtual disk with a terabyte of capacity. Once the disks are set up and available to Windows, you can have access to the storage using Windows file services, you can make them available to your database server, or as storage for applications. You can also create a number of separate logical volumes. At different points during testing I had the MD3000i appear as a single volume, four volumes, five volumes or as a drive array with spare drives. Dells included configuration software makes changing from one to another very straightforward.
Using the SAN
Most of the SAN testing involved moving large files around from one drive array on the HP server to another, or in transferring files either as file copies or as backup jobs from clients and servers to the SAN. While these are hardly formal benchmarks, I did discover that in every case the SAN was a lot faster than the SCSI array, usually taking about two-thirds the time. Once the SAN is up and running its mostly a background operation. If youre using Windows file services, for example, its just another drive on the server. The primary limitation during the first phases of testing was related more to operator error than anything else. But once I went back and followed the instructions, the SAN was quick and transparent. You should note that the instructions arent complex and the documentation is clear, but you do have to actually pay attention. This isnt a single click installation. I should add, however, that Dell does include an automatic configuration wizard. This wizard takes you through the steps that need to be accomplished from the management console, but youll still need to configure the iSCSI Initiator. Dell also includes a manual configuration capability that gives you more control, but which is still very easy to use. Expansion The MD3000i that I tested for this review had 15 SAS hard disks with 73 gigabytes each. Using up to two expansion MD1000 chassis can support another 15 drives each and each drive can be up to 300 gigabytes. The MD3000i can be ordered with support for either SAS or SATA (Serial ATA) drives. With two controllers, you can connect up to 16 servers through a switch. You can support two servers if theyre directly connected. The power supplies are redundant and either supply will run the device. According to information provided by Dell, the PowerVault MD3000i uses the same disk drives as the companys PowerEdge servers. This is intended to simplify your spare parts stocking. Dell lists a high-availability version of the MD3000i that can support redundant servers and features a battery backed gigabyte cache thats good for up to 72 hours. The disks included in the tested version of the MD3000i are hot swappable. As youd expect, Dell has a wide variety of options available for the PowerVault iSCSI SAN devices. These options include the disk drives in excess of two, the second controller, and the background copying software. One thing thats standard is Dells remote setup service which allows an engineer to perform the setup for you while you provide the necessary information over the phone. I used this method for the first attempt at installing the SAN and its clearly the method of choice for enterprises that dont plan to train SAN experts. Still, your network management staff will have to configure the network to work with the SAN. This means making sure your Ethernet switch can be set up with a VLAN for the storage network, and making sure that the network has enough bandwidth available to support the resulting traffic. You may find, as I did, that this really means using a separate switch. Whats important, however, is that Dell has made a real effort to make setting up and using the PowerVault MD3000i something that most small and medium enterprises can accomplish. Youre probably not going to need to send your staff out for training, and you may not need to buy new infrastructure to support your storage needs. Instead, Dell has produced a storage solution that you can actually use without spending a lot of unbudgeted money on training to infrastructure. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on enterprise and small business storage hardware and software.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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