Business data storage needs are skyrocketing. The average workstation ships with a 300GB or higher hard drive, and everyone saves everything forever.
In both 2007 and 2008, Forrester Research found that more than 35 percent of small and midsize business IT departments were increasing spending on servers and storage, and a lot of analysts have weighed in on increasing data storage needs, estimating the annual rate of increase as somewhere between 33 and 100 percent.
Hewlett-Packard is introducing into this environment the ProLiant DL185 G5 Storage Server, a versatile 2U (3.5-inch) rack-mounted device that can be configured as an NAS (network-attached storage) device or as an iSCSI SAN (storage area network) device.
The DL185 G5 is based on the venerable ProLiant line of servers, and G5s are, in fact, ProLiant servers configured for storage and preloaded with Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 and HP’s installation wizards and management tools. Models start with the smaller 1U (1.75-inch) DL160 G5 Storage Server and are available in a variety of rack-mounted or tower form factors. All have the high availability and management features that you’d expect from a server.
HP has done a major update to the management software and these products now share the same ASM (All-in-One Storage Manager) as the AiO Storage line. This is a significant upgrade in terms of usability from the prior HP Storage Server Management Console, with very clear step-by-step instructions and a clean GUI with sensible organization. Whether an administrator is managing one or 100, he or she will appreciate the ease of installation, configuration and management.
Installation was a breeze. It took longer to get the box into the lab, rack-mount the unit and connect power, KVM and network than to set up the first RAID 5 volume and the first share, bring it into my test domain, assign users and groups the proper privileges through my existing Active Directory PDC, and enable disk-to-disk snapshots. From power-up to live took a mere 19 minutes; this degree of consumer-friendliness in an enterprise-class NAS box is uncommon. The first time the unit booted, a wizard walked me through configuration, which pretty much amounted to giving the server a name, then rebooting and logging in using the default user name and password (which I was not forced to change, but should have been in order to make it more secure).
The only aspect of installation that disappointed me was that there was no way in the wizard to specify the use of an SMTP server that requires a secure connection. With more and more businesses requiring SMTP authentication before sending mail, this would be a nice feature to see. Fortunately, I was later able to configure this after the wizard was finished.
Tweaking the Settings
The storage server can run as an NFS (Network File System) for Linux/Unix or CIFS (Common Internet File System) for Windows, or both. Creating shares takes little to no time in ASM. The well-organized GUI-organized by management function rather than by volume, as so many others are-launches wizards for creating shares or migrating application-specific data, such as data from Exchange or Oracle. The wizard for file sharing breaks configuration down to a very simple (and quick) level, to the point where a user only has to enter the name of the share, the desired size and the groups that can use it.
Likewise, HP Data Protector Express Software is incorporated into the GUI to simplify backup, snapshots and device mirroring. I easily set the DL185 G5 to perform snapshots every 12 hours on weekdays only.
I am, however, not the kind of IT guy who wants a wizard-driven interface because I want to tweak every ounce of juice out of a system, especially a server. I was pleased to find that I could use the Array Configuration Utility and the usual Windows cast of characters to tweak to my heart’s content, setting parameters for logical and physical drives such as block size. The dual Gigabit Ethernet NICs (network interface cards) can be teamed for better performance, and maintenance operations can check bandwidth utilization before launching.
The DL185 G5 performed very well for a departmental NAS solution. I ran Iometer 2006.07.27 using two Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.40GHz Windows XP Pro clients with 3.25GB RAM and 1000M-bps Ethernet NICs. Iometer is an I/O subsystem measurement and characterization tool for single and clustered systems. I connected to a Windows share, launched 10 Iometer threads per client, ramping up one thread at a time, and performed a 50/50 percent sequential/random 33/67 percent write/read mix with a 64KB workload size. Performance peaked at 1377 IOps and 86M bps, at which point average response time was just over 13 milliseconds.
Overall, the HP DL185 G5 is an impressive enterprise-level storage server that can serve as an NAS or SAN device. The AiO Storage Management interface and the installation wizards simplify the task of rolling out storage on a departmental or data center level. Storage pros and IT generalists can do the quick and dirty work to create shares using the wizards and then dive down to minute settings if they so desire. This makes the device versatile, which is what an IT resource like storage should be.
Matthew D. Sarrel is executive director of Sarrel Group, an IT test lab, editorial services and consulting company in New York City.