An IP-based system was the right storage consolidation and performance investment for Bayview Financial LP. Jamie Riis, CIO at Bayview, in Coral Gables, Fla., wanted to implement a shared storage infrastructure to consolidate application storage and file sharing for the fast-growing real estate investment and mortgage finance company, which has doubled in size (to 1,000 employees) since the storage project began last year.
Riis first evaluated Fibre Channel SAN (storage area network) solutions from Xiotech Corp. and EMC Corp., but he determined that the added management burden and cost of a SAN system was not acceptable. Implementing a Fibre Channel-based SAN would have forced Bayview to acquire not only costly Fibre Channel storage systems but also Fibre Channel networking equipment, such as switches and HBAs (host bus adapters), to support it.
Riis staff already had IP networking equipment in place and an abundance of experience and skill using that technology, so Riis decided to test a consolidated NAS (network-attached storage)/iSCSI solution from Network Appliance Inc.
Bayviews storage infrastructure now consists of a Network Appliance Filer device with 9TB of storage for applications and file-serving chores, as well as a Network Appliance NearStore R100 unit with 12TB of storage for database backups and mortgage documents. Riis even uses his IP storage infrastructure to support an in-house data warehousing application, he said.
One of Riis biggest concerns going into the project was performance: He was worried that IP storage, which is slower than Fibre Channel SAN storage, would not be fast enough to run his companys applications.
However, his fears were quickly eliminated. "We were initially concerned with performance, but after we ran tests, we found that offloading servers gave us 50 percent performance increases over our old DAS [direct-attached storage] system," Riis said.
Although Riis was able to use relatively slow IP storage networks, the same implementation would not be viable for enterprises that are more transaction-intensive. Despite the fact that multiple Bayview applications rely on the Network Appliance IP storage infrastructure for storage, transaction-per-second totals are less than 100.
Riis knew going into the project that an IP-based storage system could support this rate; the advantage Riis gained from having such knowledge illustrates the value in IT managers spending time getting to know their data and workloads before dumping money into a storage system.
Riis and his team encountered a couple of reliability problems when they first implemented the Filer solution to provide storage for Bayviews Microsoft Corp. SQL Server and IBM Lotus Notes servers using NAS protocols—CIFS (Common Internet File System), in particular.
"When we were running CIFS with Lotus Notes and SQL Server, we found that we had to reboot the servers every day," Riis said.
The problem, he said, was that the network shares would occasionally lose connectivity with the applications, causing server downtime. Riis said that switching storage connectivity from CIFS to iSCSI eliminated the problem because iSCSI provides a more stable link between servers and storage.
Despite Bayviews rapid growth, Riis said he does not anticipate adding more Filer heads in the near future because his current solution is holding up well.
Although Network Appliance offers high-availability clustering for its Filer units, Riis said he has decided to stick with his single Filer head system because he can revert to tape backups and near-line storage in the event that the Filer has a memory or processor failure.
Riis recently implemented jumbo frames on the network, which has provided a noticeable boost in performance for Bayviews servers. In addition, Riis operations group is considering using iSCSI HBAs to further boost performance, but no acquisition plans have been made.
Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at email@example.com.