iSCSI san for a small business
May 3, 2010 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations for a cheap(ish) small business iSCSI san device.

I'm looking for a shared storage device for our office. We have dual requirements for it - its going to be the main file store, but additionally needs to give us some flexible storage for our dev servers. Bonus feature/nice to have - snapshots

The servers need to be able to mount iSCSI luns from the device and the lowest priced HP model is around £5K with a single controller (StorageWorks 2312 or 2324).

NAS isnt enough - we do development for a lot of clients using VM replica's of their servers, we have a lot of VM's and I want to be able to use the storage as and when I need it - I need that flexibility and throughput. I may have multiple servers and the iSCSI flexibility is useful.

The file storage for the office will be on a smallish lun that will remain in place for everyday CIFs stuff - I have a file server that will mount that LUN serve/manage the data

HP is too expensive for us, looking at options around the £3-4K cost, (I know 5K is 1K more but budget is tight). Its hard to find anything outside of HP & Dell that has trusted reviews. The drobo iSCSI san looks possible. Does anyone have any recommendations? 4TB would be a good size for us.
posted by daveyt to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At that price point, build your own with commodity drives is the only option. Most SAN's are designed to be highly reliable, and consumer grade drives and such just doesn't cut it. A drobo might support a server or two, but 4 spindles (or 8?) wont win many performance awards.

A good friend of mine runs a SCST on a server with Adaptec 31205 cards and Western Digital RE3 drives.

4TB usable, with snapshots, means you should probably be shopping for 10x1tb disks.
posted by SirStan at 8:27 AM on May 3, 2010

A number of my coworkers here at Texas A&M are using Buffalo TeraStation devices as either backup or primary storage, and have been very happy with them for the most part.
posted by SpecialK at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2010

I'm not sure if you know this or not, but unless you are using an exotic filesystem, only one machine can mount each LUN at a time. Think of the SAN as a physical disk, the LUNs as different partitions and the iSCSI protocol as the SCSI cable connecting the disk to the server.

I'm assuming you want to use the space to be able to shuffle the VMs around and connect to them with various machines to do devel on as needed. What I'm missing is how you are going to manage the VMs. If they are files, you will need a filesystem and an operating system to contain/manage them, no?

Recommendation: try Dell? At some point in the past, they used emc hardware for their SAN solutions.

Another recommendation: get a standard server with lots of drives and a RAID card. Use software to provide iSCSI services. The RAID keeps the server up through drive failures and something like Linux provides the snapshotting and LVM management that you'll need.

Third recommendation: instead of a SAN, just get a drive enclosure and hook it up to a server and, like above, manage the space in software.
posted by gjc at 8:43 AM on May 3, 2010

Coming in to anti-recommend the Buffalo units. Slow, clunky and the support is terrible. I requested an install guide (the replacement order we made didn't come with the instructions or mounting hardware, original unit was smashed pre-boxing; yeah they shipped a very damaged unit) and they sent me a Japanese language PDF. The response to my WTF was "Well, the pictures are the same."
posted by anti social order at 9:16 AM on May 3, 2010

Check out the Drobo Elite
posted by digividal at 9:20 AM on May 3, 2010

I recommend checking out Openfiler, a standalone appliance style linux distro that should provide the features you need. I've set it up for a couple different situations and it has performed well. It's pretty easy to try out if you've got a spare server laying around, too.

I've had it server iSCSI for VMware without much problem at all. Depends on the disks you use, though, SAS really helps.
posted by Skrubly at 9:26 AM on May 3, 2010

I'm runing OpenFiler on commodity hardware (specifically, Dell 2950 servers full of 1TB SATA drives), to provide iSCSI targets for a handful of physical and virtual machines. It's been more than adequate. I built it a few years ago well within a $10k budget. I suspect it could be comfortably done for under $5k today. I'm not sure what that would be once you took a conversion rate and GST/VAT into account, but it's going to be much cheaper than buying a vendor's appliance.

(We're actually running pairs of these, with heartbeat and drbd to provide something approaching a Highly Available SAN)

It is absolutely possible to have a single iSCSI target attached to multiple machines at once (so it appears in the /dev/ tree of more than one machine), but most filesystems can only be actively mounted in one place at a time, or you risk race conditions that can easily lead to data loss (so partitions in that /dev/ entry shouldn't ever be mounted r/w on multiple machines). For our purposes, this is no problem (we also primarily use iSCSI-backed VMs, and both Xen and libvirt/qemu know how to migrate running VMs safely).

If you do need concurrent access to a filesystem, there's GFS/GFS2, which is designed to be mounted read/write by multiple systems simultaneously. Once it's set up, it appears much like any other filesystem.
posted by toxic at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2010

Openfiler is a good recommendation, I'd certainly recommend taking a look.

If you're opting for a vendor solution, you could check out the Dell Equalogic iSCSI devices. Some of the lower-end models might match your price point.

Best bang for your buck? NetApp. Most likely out of your price range though. But you'll get performance and probably the most optimal disk usage currently available.
posted by purephase at 9:51 AM on May 3, 2010

Echoing OpenFiler.
posted by togdon at 12:08 PM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: OpenSolaris (ZFS) + COMSTAR (iSCSI) + computer with redundant power supplies, supported dedicated battery-backed RAID controller, and ECC memory + RAID level hard drives is one great solution. If I didn't have solid institutional support, I might go that route if I had a decent tape drive to back my stuff up.

If you feel like spending more money, I can't recommend the ACNC JetStor SAS 516is and similar iSCSI arrays. They are totally awesome. The support is great, and the machine are bulletproof.

If you think you're going to want to get into replication of your raid array for disaster recovery later on, you might want to check out iQstor's iq2850. This machine can replicate to any other iSCSI target. Very cool.

Unfortunately, SAN storage -- even iSCSI -- is a sort of "good, fast, cheap", except you really get to pick only one of the three. Not even two. Maybe it's time to take out a mortgage.

(Disclaimer: I work with petabyte scale SANs, so my idea of cheap might be different than yours)
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 12:27 PM on May 3, 2010

Oh, and while I'm at it, I might mention that OpenSolaris + COMSTAR supports deduplication now for targets. Very cool, especially if you have a lot of similar VMs.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 12:28 PM on May 3, 2010

Speaking of the JetStor arrays, we use their FC arrays and have had serious problems with power supplies, especially as the arrays age. Their maximum lifespan is riding around four years right now, with 6 years being extreme. We've been using them for about eight years, but will no longer be buying them.
posted by SpecialK at 5:39 PM on May 12, 2010

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