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Commerce Bank rolls out iSCSI DR SAN

The largest bank in Kansas created a new DR infrastructure using two IP SAN clusters from LeftHand Networks.

Sick of relying on shuffling tapes for off-site disaster recovery (DR), Commerce Bank discovered last year it could replicate its LeftHand Networks Inc. SAN cluster over its existing network to another location five miles away using LeftHand's Remote IP Copy replication feature.

The Topeka, Kan.-based bank had made the switch from DAS on Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) DL380 and DL360 Windows servers scattered among its 22 branch office locations to an NSM100 iSCSI SAN cluster from LeftHand in 2004. The cluster includes two white-box hardware SANs running LeftHand's SANiQ software, which stripes data between the SAN "nodes" for failover.

"The best thing about it was that we could use our existing network routers to move data from the branch offices where it could be managed in a central location," said Steve Haas, IT security officer for Commerce. The company's network infrastructure includes a LAN "ring" among the six main branch locations and a WAN connecting the rest of the smaller branch offices that feed data into the main network. All the data is then shuttled to the bank's headquarters where it is stored on the LeftHand cluster.

The new architecture solved its immediate backup problems, Haas said, but didn't address DR. A year later, still moving tapes among safes in the branches as an off-site storage plan, he got fed up.

"DR was really what compelled us to add the NSM 200s," Haas said. "There was just no way to recover from any type of disaster easily using tape."

To update its DR plan, Commerce added a newer NSM 200 SAN cluster, this time encompassing three SAN "nodes", at the main branch, and moved the older NSM 100 to another location five miles away. LeftHand's IP Copy software allows one cluster to replicate to the other via the company's Gigabit Ethernet network.

Under the new DR system, tape is now an extra precaution rather than the main protection, Haas said. Commerce is still vaulting tapes off site at another location 12 miles away from headquarters.

A money-saving bonus

An added bonus, Haas said, is the cost difference. The NSM 100 cluster cost $36,000 two years ago and the 200 cluster another $32,000, plus another $5,000 or so, all told, for licenses and extras. It's clearly a savings over a Fibre Channel SAN but Haas said the LeftHand system also saved him money because of its thin provisioning feature.

Previously, Haas estimated, he was spending about $1,200 a month for RAID cards and extra SCSI disk to expand his DAS volumes. The disk, which Haas said he purchased through HP, came only in set capacities of 72 GB or 36 GB. Haas said he often found himself buying more disk capacity than he needed.

The LeftHand SAN clusters, he noted, allow him to provision storage for several applications at once, letting them draw from the pool as needed. Once the 500 GB of disk space he's now using in his clusters is exceeded, he estimates it will cost $10,000 to add a new chassis of disk to each cluster -- a yearly savings over frequent disk purchases of about $5,000.

"Also, it's a drag and drop cluster expansion," Haas said. "I don't have to go to 'SAN school' to learn how to manage it."

The LeftHand clusters allow users to set policies for automatic provisioning, as well as alerts for when storage provisions are becoming full. This system is the one place Haas said he had a quibble with LeftHand's system.

"I wish I could just get one e-mail for all the alerts, and designate the e-mail address I want them sent to one time," he said.

Otherwise, Haas said, he found LeftHand and never looked back. The only other IP SAN he looked at two years ago was StoneFly Networks Inc., but rejected it as "not as mature" as LeftHand's product.

The industry picture

LeftHand took a right turn somewhere. Along with IP SAN competitors EqualLogic Inc. and Intransa Inc., the startup, founded in 1999, has steamed on as interest in IP SANs has grown in the last few years. Recently, LeftHand announced its 1,000th customer, was invited to join the Intel Storage Community, was designated a Microsoft Simple SAN partner,and scored a reseller deal with HP that will see its SANiQ software integrated with HP's ProLiant DL380 servers.

However, while the sun is shining on IP SAN startups right now, some industry experts also warn that storm clouds could be ahead. The big vendors, including Network Appliance Inc. and EMC Corp. have begun to sniff around the IP SAN space but appear to be growing their businesses organically, rather than buying smaller companies. There's a chance the established players could gobble up market share without acquisitions, leaving the IP SAN startups to struggle on.


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