Dells iSCSI SAN Is a Boon for SME Storage

Review: Ease of implementation benefits, excellent performance and transparent operation make the PowerVault MD3000i a good bet for sites with emerging storage needs.

Dells new PowerVault MD3000i SAN isnt the first time Dell has shipped a storage area network. In fact, its not the first time the company has shipped an iSCSI SAN.

Whats new about the MD3000i is that its the first time the company has shipped one without the name of its partner EMC. The PowerVault MD3000i is purely a Dell product, and for that its a first.

This does not mean that Dell has abandoned its partnership with EMC. In fact, the MD3000i fits neatly into a niche between the partnerships AX and CX series SANs. As such its a moderately priced storage solution designed for the small and medium enterprise market—the PowerVault MD3000i, which became available on September 10, starts at a base price of $7,120. The unit I tested was priced at $15,514.

Equally important, Dell has intended this product for SMEs that have limited expertise with storage solutions, which means that it includes software that makes integrating the SAN easy, and because its an iSCSI solution it can fit into an existing IP network (although that capability depends a lot on your network).

These ease of implementation benefits, coupled with excellent performance and transparent operation, make the PowerVault MD3000i a good bet for a lot of users with emerging storage needs.


To read about how Dell has tweaked its mobile workstation lineup, click here.logical setup.

I looked at the Dell PowerVault MD3000i shortly before the company released it, so the hardware and software were in pre-release versions. In addition to the base MD3000i, which would be delivered with a pair of drives and a single dual-port controller, the tested unit included a total of fifteen 15000 rpm 73 GB SAS (server-attached storage) drives, and a pair of dual-port controllers. The tested unit also included Dells Disk Storage Manager SAN management software, snapshot software and volume or "shadow" copy software that lets you keep client and server backups current.

Dell uses Microsofts iSCSI Initiator software for connecting Windows machines to the SAN. Dell didnt include the Windows software with the SAN, but it is available for download from Microsoft. The MD3000i also works with some later distributions of Linux that now ship with iSCSI software.


Dells Disk Storage Manager Summary screen is designed to give you a visual snapshot of the current status of the SAN. Other tasks are available on tabbed pages that expose links to various functions. While only the Summary page is actually graphical, the links on each page are grouped logically, and are easy to figure out. Those links either invoke a wizard that leads you through the chosen process, or to a form that you will need to fill out to invoke the chosen function, such as modifying your disk arrays

Setting up the SAN

The Dell MD3000i SAN server weighs in at 78 pounds for just the device, not counting the rack mounting kit, sliding rails, power cords or anything else. This is not a job for one person. The tested version included redundant power supplies and dual control units. As a result, there are six Ethernet connections and two power connections on the rear of the device. Four of the six Ethernet connections are for your storage network. The other two are for redundant access to out-of-band management. Theres also a serial connection on the rear of the device if you want to manage it that way.

An important consideration if youre installing the MD3000i SAN (or any other iSCSI SAN for that matter) is that this device needs its own dedicated network. This network can share the switching infrastructure with the rest of your network, but it must be on its own VLAN (virtual LAN). In addition, it must have a full gigabit of bandwidth for each data channel. To accomplish this on the test network, I installed a Dell PowerConnect 2708 Gigabit Ethernet switch.

The Dell switch gave me four ports for the MD3000i, plus a pair of Ethernet ports for the HP DL385 Opteron-based server running Windows 2003 Server, a connection to the main lab network and a connection to an IBM x346 Xeon-based server. Primary testing was done using the HP DL385 server which was equipped with a six-disk RAID 5 array of Ultra 320 SCSI disks. This allowed comparisons between the file transfer rates to both types of storage, and between the RAID array and the SAN on the same server.

In addition to setting up VLANs, or an actual separate network for the SAN, youll need to assign IP addresses to each port on the storage controllers, and to the management ports. Most enterprises will connect the management ports to a separate network from the storage network, which is what I did. While I used a separate switch for the storage network in this test, its possible to simply set up VLANs on a managed Gigabit Ethernet switch as long as the VLAN is given sufficient bandwidth to support the storage traffic.

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...