How to Implement Your Own SAN

How do you implement a SAN in an enterprise with a limited budget, thousands of users, a staff of three and no facilities for testing? According to Brett Littrell, network manager for the Milpitas Unified School District, you do it with a lot of care, patience, luck and sometimes a few problems.  

Our school system provides just enough money to keep the system running and updated; any new systems or services are paid for on an as-needed basis. There are no test systems, evaluations or network simulations. If we get something it is implemented and issues that arise are on live systems.

We started looking at SANs (storage area networks) about seven years ago. We began looking at Winchester systems. We were looking at fully redundant meshed switches and SAN servers to get the most reliability, but with the technology available at that time, there was always a single point of failure that we were unable to resolve. However, that approach was too costly, so we continued to stick with the in-server disks; they were faster than running across a SAN and a lot cheaper.

Management suggested trying the EMC Clariion 100 SAN package when it became available. I think it was something like 1TB, and the price seemed like a steal back then-$15,000 for a Fiber Channel switch, some Qlogic cards and the EMC Clariion SAN server. After purchasing the package I noticed we needed fiber optic cables, which did not come with the system. We paid EMC $120 for each; additional parts were not included in the package, such as rack-mounting hardware that could have cost up to another $200.
We used the SAN for housing Quorum disks for clusters and that seemed to work fine. Eventually, I was asked to move our GroupWise e-mail server to the new SAN and cluster it. I was concerned about the performance, but I moved it anyway. The performance was worse then local disks, but it wasn't so bad that it was not worth the redundancy with the clustered server.