17 Sep

Which is Better For Your 10Gb Network – iSCSI or Fibre Channel?

As we’ve been selling more and more SANs to complement our Cisco UCS solutions, there has been one overwhelming revelation that I didn’t expect: iSCSI is going to win over Fibre Channel (FC).

For a long time, if you wanted a SAN, and you wanted high performance, then you invested heavily in FC. It guaranteed performance from the server to the SAN by having dedicated FC cards in the server attached to dedicated FC switches. The SAN had its own little network to guarantee this performance. FC started out at 1Gbps, then 2, 4, 8, and now I’m hearing 16Gbps. This sounds great, except when you look at the stats: 95% of SAN users need less than 2Gbps in performance. Most of us just don’t have large data centers that demand this upper level of performance.
iSCSI, on the other hand, is Ethernet based. It takes SCSI data and puts it into a TCP/IP packet and then wraps it in an Ethernet frame to transmit it down the wire. In the past, it was hard to guarantee performance unless we used separate Ethernet switches just for the SAN. As Ethernet networks have improved in performance, this issue no longer exists. Today, with 10Gb Ethernet lossless Ethernet networks, we can demonstrate that the iSCSI network has guaranteed performance. And, with 10G, the speed and bandwidth available far exceeds what we typically need. Now we can implement iSCSI storage networks for a fraction of the cost of a Fibre Channel storage network and yield the same, if not better, results.

If you have Fibre Channel today, it may make sense to keep it for now. But the next time you replace your SAN, it’s definitely worth considering iSCSI. If you are new to buying a SAN, I would only consider iSCSI, especially if you are implementing a 10Gb network.

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02 Jul

Nimble: The Next Generation SAN

When we started selling virtualization solutions several years ago, we needed to find a good storage vendor to work with. Even though we primarily sell Cisco solutions, Cisco doesn’t have a storage offering. And you really can’t do virtualization without a SAN (at least not if you want any of the advanced features). So our quest began.

We looked at several companies including EMC, Netapp, and Dell Equalogic. All of these vendors seemed to offer the same storage solution, just packaged differently. Then we came across a newcomer, Nimble Storage. Nimble was attacking the market differently and had a very unique product.

Typically with most SANs, you lose about half of the raw storage due to resiliency requirements (RAID). So if you have 12TB of raw storage, you usually end up with only 6TB of useable. Not so with Nimble. Nimble has built-in compression that allows you to gain back all of the lost space. So if you have 12TB raw, you have 12TB useable. Nimble is able to do this through the use of multi-core CPUs on the system that enable it to compress without any degradation in storage performance.

Whenever you do virtualization, you likely will use a type of system backup called snapshots. Snapshots allow you to make a replica of an entire virtual machine at an instant in time, allowing you to easily rollback an entire virtual machine with a few clicks. The downside with snapshots usually is that they eat up a lot of diskspace. Not so with Nimble. Nimble has built into their product the ability to take a snapshot and then with each additional snapshot, only capture the data that has changed, thus significantly reducing the total storage requirements.

Nimble is also able to provide a significant performance increase by utilizing flash. Nimble was designed from the ground up to utilize a flash memory system. It wasn’t bolted on like other vendors. All read/write activity goes through the flash first and as a result provides a major performance increase. It also allows Nimble to use slower and less expensive hard drives. Instead of using 15k or 10k RPM drives, they can use 7.2K drives.

Nimble leverages the cloud and Big Data to collect information about all of their hardware. This enables their customers to easily generate reports on various types of usage or to see the performance of the system. It also enables Nimble to automatically see if there are any issues arising and to be proactive in dealing with them. And if there is an issue, there are only 4 components to deal with: Hard Drives, Power Supplies, Fans, and Controllers. All redundant, and easily field replaceable. This makes for a very simple solution to maintain.

Whether you are new to virtualization, haven’t purchased a SAN yet, or just need to refresh your SAN, I would highly recommend taking a close look at Nimble Storage for your next storage solution. Take a look at our Nimble Storage page for more information. As always, if you have questions, please reach out to us.

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07 Apr

Do You Need a Storage Area Network?

If you have been following my blog, I last discussed the advantages of virtualizing your servers. Related to this solution is another technology solution that typically goes hand-in-hand with server virtualization, but it isn’t required. Namely, a SAN (Storage Area Network). You may be asking, “Isn’t a SAN for those large enterprises with 500+ employees?” This is not the case anymore.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a SAN, it is a high-speed network of shared storage devices. Instead of storage being associated with a specific server, a SAN exists independently on your network and is directly accessible by clients and/or servers. The SAN allows the storage devices to exist on their own network and communicate very fast with each other over very fast media. This addresses bandwidth issues that are typically associated with SCSI bus based implementations.

Storage Area Networks are most commonly implemented using Fibre Channel or iSCSI, which is a set of communication standards that support very fast data rates. With Fibre Channel, the storage devices are connected together using a Fibre Channel switch which provides a dedicated path between the devices in the SAN fabric. With iSCSI, IP packets are used to move data blocks back and forth over your standard Ethernet network. Although iSCSI is supported on 1Gig connections, most virtualization platforms require 10Gig for optimum performance with today’s software versions.

If your organization is pursuing server virtualization, it would make sense to take a hard look at implementing a SAN. There are SAN solutions meant for the small to medium-sized business and priced accordingly. With a SAN, server instances can be moved between virtual machine hardware while still operating. This allows for a more reliable and dynamic implementation of server virtualization. It also becomes easier to manage your storage as it is centrally located and redundancy (such as RAID 10) is built-in.

Telcion would love to help you make this transition to a SAN (Storage Area Network). Please contact us at sales@telcion.com to help you make this evaluation.

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