Law Firm Taps iSCSI for Order in the Port

Law Firm Taps iSCSI for Order in the Port

4/20/2005
As printed in storagepipeline By Chuck Moozakis For law firm Dickinson Wright PLLC, upgrading to a storage area network was one thing. Moving up to Fibre Channel was another matter entirely. Avoiding the complexity and expense of Fibre Channel was a key reason why Detroit-based Dickinson Wright instead opted for an iSCSI-based SAN, a project slated for completion this summer, said Alan J. Hunt, manager of operations for the 450-employee firm. "I heard nightmares about Fibre Channel and how long it takes to bring up a [Fibre Channel] environment," he said. In its place, Hunt decided to install iSCSI arrays from EqualLogic Inc. When the deployment is complete, the law firm will have 11 PS200E arrays from Nashua, N.H.-based EqualLogic, armed with 61 terabytes of capacity. The first arrays went into production earlier this year; the remainder are expected to be deployed by August. "I wasn't sure what to expect with Fibre Channel," Hunt said, "but I had the first two [iSCSI] arrays running within an hour." As with other enterprises, Dickinson Wright's data requirements have skyrocketed. In addition to its Detroit headquarters, the 200-attorney firm has offices in four other Michigan cities as well as in Washington, D.C., specializing in more than 30 areas of corporate and business law. Hunt said he began searching for alternatives to the firm's then DAS-based storage infrastructure three years ago. He didn't like what he found. "I met with one SAN vendor and got sticker shock," he said of the $300,000-plus price tag Hunt was quoted for a 1-terabyte Fibre Channel-equipped array. "I didn't think it was worth it, and since I was always a fan of DAS, I didn't think it necessary to spend the extra money for SAN and [associated] storage management software," Hunt said. By early 2004, however, Hunt said it was time to make a change to Dickinson Wright's storage infrastructure. His IBM servers were aging and he wanted to migrate to blade servers and a SAN as part of an overarching goal to decouple the firm's servers from their operating environment. "That was the real goal: I don't want to be tied to a physical box. If a blade fails, then I'll fire up a spare one as a replacement," Hunt said. As he examined Fibre Channel alternatives, iSCSI "popped up" as a viable option, Hunt said. "I began studying [iSCSI] years ago and I felt I was better off to wait and see if it would come in at a lower cost and offer better performance" than Fibre Channel. By last summer, Hunt said he believed iSCSI was ready for prime time, offering attractive costs and performance. But he wasn't as sanguine about suppliers. He ultimately stumbled upon EqualLogic by reading an article in an industry publication detailing 2004's top technological trends. "I called them and someone called me back within an hour. They wanted my business," he said. EqualLogic installed the first four arrays early this year, supporting approximately 50 IBM blade servers. Each of the 5.6-Tbyte arrays sports two controllers, with three 1-Gigabit Ethernet ports per controller. One controller is active while the other remains on standby. Hunt said the iSCSI devices dovetailed easily with Dickinson Wright's gigabit and 10-Mbps Ethernet network, making installation simple. Currently, the arrays are grouped in pairs of two; when all 11 of the Serial ATA-equipped arrays are installed this summer, they'll be grouped into six SANs and support 140 application servers, Hunt said. "There was no additional expense, no expensive storage management software. It's iSCSI-in-a-box," Hunt said. "You plug in a box and it asks if you want to join" the other network storage devices. "I knew I was getting the ability to provision storage into smaller volumes, but I didn't realize how easy it would be to grow the array itself." Additionally, the EqualLogic arrays boasted automatic load balancing, something Hunt said was critical. "I want the maximum number of spindles" storing information, he said. ISCSI has become a budding competitor to Fibre Channel, thanks to developments within the past two years that have narrowed the performance gap between the two protocols. Fibre Channel's throughput of 2 gigabits per second (soon to be 4 Gbps) outpaces iSCSI's 1-Gbps speed, but iSCSI's IP foundation, in conjunction with easier deployment and costs that can be 50 percent lower, is attracting IT administrators' attention. iSCSI's adaptability is what sold Hunt, he said. "I especially like the building block approach. If I want to add an array I just plug it in and do nothing else." Hunt declined to disclose how much Dickinson Wright paid for its iSCSI SAN, but said the entire project, including the cost of the new blade servers, was less than $500,000. EqualLogic released the PS200E array last fall.
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