iSCSI Tames Data Deluge at FoxHollow

Case Study: Medical device manufacturer FoxHollow Technologies chooses NetApp iSCSI appliances over Fibre Channel to handle its expansion needs affordably.

Medical device manufacturer FoxHollow Technologies has seen its revenue increase fiftyfold and a significant jump in its employee base since 2003. Its storage needs have likewise ballooned, and the company turned to iSCSI to accommodate that growth.

Tom Miller, director of IT at FoxHollow, in Redwood City, Calif., considered both Fibre Channel and iSCSI when evaluating systems that would meet his companys storage needs.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to how Fibre Channel and iSCSI fared in eWEEK Labs head-to-head tests.

After an evaluation of the two storage transports, Miller decided that the cost savings and relative simplicity of iSCSI trumped any speed and distance advantages Fibre Channel would afford.

Millers evaluation has paid off: By deploying iSCSI instead of Fibre Channel, Miller estimates, FoxHollow has saved up to $75,000 in hardware alone.

iSCSI will also save FoxHollow resources in terms of management and support of the environment over its lifetime, along with any training costs that would have been incurred with a Fibre Channel deployment.

"Our decision to go with iSCSI came down to cost, manageability and support," Miller said. "We had some initial apprehension regarding iSCSI performance, but ... we felt that iSCSI had come of age for mission-critical applications."

In January, eWEEK Labs went on-site at FoxHollow to evaluate the companys iSCSI implementation and to speak with Miller and his staff about their reasons for choosing the technology over Fibre Channel.

Before the iSCSI deployment, FoxHollow relied on a Xiotech Magnitude SAN (storage area network) and servers with DAS (direct-attached storage). As the companys storage needs grew, Miller decided that he needed an integrated storage management solution that was scalable, secure, flexible enough to adapt to changing business needs and, most importantly, cost-effective.

Because of the complex nature of the devices that FoxHollow manufactures, as well as the various regulations the company needs to adhere to, Miller wanted to go with an established vendor that had experience in the life sciences industry and the rules that govern it.

FoxHollow, for example, is required to comply with the Food and Drug Administrations 21 CFR Part 11 rule on electronic records and signatures. And, as a public company, it must also comply with federal regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

"We wanted a solution from a recognized vendor that had viability for the mid- to long term," Miller said. "We wanted a business solution that was flexible and secure and that had components we needed for the future. Our goal was to work with a vendor that was well-established."

Millers main concern regarding iSCSI was performance, particularly when it came to the companys mission-critical business and scientific applications. iSCSI runs on Gigabit Ethernet (1G bps), while Fibre Channel runs on 2G-bps Ethernet, with 4G-bps products starting to make an appearance. In addition, iSCSI technology eats up CPU cycles.

Miller spoke with many IT managers who had deployed iSCSI-based storage solutions, and all of them stated that performance had not been an issue at their organizations.

Luis Gutierrez, an IT network analyst at FoxHollow, said the companys IT staff also took into account that there was no assurance that Fibre Channel would perform as well as vendors claimed.

"Fibre Channel vendors kept talking about improvements and speeds, but we werent sure we would be able to really take advantage of the performance capability of the hardware," Gutierrez said. "The applications for Fibre Channel havent caught up with the hardware."

Fibre Channel costs

Miller finally ruled out Fibre Channel due to its relative complexity and high cost. "The additional support and overall costs associated with Fibre Channel were much bigger [than with iSCSI], down to the cables," Miller said.

Miller considered solutions from several iSCSI vendors, including Network Appliance, EMC, EqualLogic, Intransa, StoneFly and LeftHand Networks.

He ultimately decided to purchase a NetApp FAS3020 iSCSI appliance with dual controllers, based in part on performance cited by independent testing. Miller also found NetApps service offerings to be compelling.

The initial cost—including software, hardware, support and professional services—was $184,000, according to Miller.

FoxHollows iSCSI project comprises three phases, two of which have been completed. The deployment of the FAS3020 appliance was finished in the third quarter of last year, and Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 mail stores were migrated in December to the FAS unit running iSCSI.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about NetApps storage offerings.

Some 175 salespeople at the company rely on Microsofts Outlook as well as Palms Treo 650 smart phones to sell the companys flagship product, the SilverHawk Plaque Excision System, a catheter system designed for the removal of plaque from arteries. Sales-related e-mails have been proliferating rapidly, and the FAS3020 has relieved the Exchange servers of their 170GB load.

The third phase of the project, which Miller and Gutierrez are working on now, is moving the companys ERP (enterprise resource planning) system data stores to the FAS3020 unit.

The initial deployment of the project was handled by FoxHollows IT staff, NetApp professional services and Integrated Archive Systems, a NetApp VAR and integrator located near FoxHollow.

In addition to the FAS3020 iSCSI appliance, FoxHollows production environment includes an updated SDLT 320 ADIC Scalar SDLT 100 tape library and a Data Domain DD430 for disk-to-disk replication. Miller also completed a backup software migration from Veritas BackupExec 10 to CommVaults Galaxy 5.9.

FoxHollows FAS3020 appliance can scale to 80TB, and the company is currently using no more than 25 percent at peak, Gutierrez said.

Next Page: Performance improvements and expansion.