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.
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.
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.
Performance Improvements and Expansion
Miller said he is happy with iSCSI and that most of his initial concerns regarding performance have been allayed.
To ensure that performance remains at a satisfactory level and to optimize throughput, Miller deployed QLogics SANBlade 4010c single-port iSCSI TOE (TCP/IP offload engine) cards with the iSCSI Software Initiator 2.0 from Microsoft. TOE cards are designed to offload the Ethernet/SCSI processing from the server processor and process the data on the card.
When Miller initially purchased the TOE cards, multipathing capabilities werent available.
Now that TOE cards are capable of multipathing, Gutierrez and Miller said they plan to test the newer cards in a test system this year to see how well they fail over.
By putting two TOE cards with such capabilities into each of their servers, Miller and Gutierrez would have two different network paths. This would ensure that the companys storage infrastructure does not have a single point of failure.
“As we add more and more onto the NetApp environment, we dont know what performance issues are going to come up,” Miller said. “[Because Fibre Channel technology has a longer history,] you have some good knowledge of what the performance will be as you add applications. With iSCSI, were still learning the environment, and, as we add more data and more systems, theres some potential impact.”
FoxHollow IT staff are currently working on moving the companys Tier 2 QAD ERP system to iSCSI. Like the Exchange server, FoxHollows ERP system, which has 100 users, is also seeing dramatic growth.
Miller also wants to move his life sciences applications to the FAS3020 unit running iSCSI. He recently purchased Dell 2850 dual-processor servers with Red Hats Red Hat Enterprise Linux to run scientific applications such as Rosetta Biosoftwares Rosetta Resolver, a gene expression analysis software application.
Those applications, which feed a back-end Oracle database, are expected to generate a lot more data once FoxHollow expands its relationship with Merck & Co.
Miller said he hopes to move the scientific applications to the iSCSI environment later this year. He also plans to move his Oracle database from DAS to the SAN environment at that time.
As the company expands to a second facility in Mountain View, Calif., Miller said, he may add a second FAS3020 unit for replication between sites and for business continuity.
“We have 500 users that have implemented approximately 7.5TB of capacity and are currently using 2TB of storage,” Miller said. “Over time, we will expand capacity and migrate more data into this environment.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected]
- Company FoxHollow Technologies
- Location Redwood City, Calif.
- Challenge FoxHollow has seen significant growth in the last few years, and it needed a cost-effective, secure and flexible integrated storage management system that could support that growth
- Solution After considering both Fibre Channel and iSCSI solutions, FoxHollow deployed NetApps iSCSI-based FAS3020 appliances for file storage and block-level storage
- Tools NetApps FAS3020 appliance; QLogics SANblade 4010c TOE cards; Microsofts Exchange Server 2003; Microsofts iSCSI Software Initiator 2.0; Xiotechs Magnitude SAN; ADICs Scalar SDLT 100 tape library; Data Domains DD430; CommVaults Galaxy 5.9; Dell servers
- Whats next FoxHollow is currently moving its ERP system onto the NetApp iSCSI solution and will begin moving life sciences applications to the appliances later this year
Source: eWEEK Labs reporting
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