Lincoln County rejects SAN sticker shock

Joel Lang said he now understands the term "sticker shock." The computer

services administrator for Lincoln County, Wis., experienced it firsthand

when he collected bids for storage solutions from a number of storage-area

network (SAN) vendors.

Lang said the storage requirements of the geographical information system

unit of the Land Records Department were "taking off like crazy."

"We were spending a lot of time adding hard disks to servers then watching

them get maxed out quickly," he said.

Department staff members were taking digital ortho photos — very large

and detailed photographs of the townships in the county taken by the U.S.

Geological Survey — then overlaying the photographic data with layer upon

layer of additional information. Based on what they had read and were told

by vendors, they thought a Fibre Channel SAN was the only way to get the

capacity and scalability they needed.

Bids were released, responses received and then sticker shock ensued.

"The vendors were asking for between $80,000 and $100,000 to meet our

initial requirement of 30 to 40G that we could grow to 100G in the future,"

Lang said. "The shock knocked me down."

He said vendors justified the expense in terms of the hardware, software,

cabling and support that would be required to field the SAN. But Lang, troubled

by his staff's lack of familiarity with Fibre Channel, realized they would

be dependent on the vendor. He needed a simpler solution and found one in

network-attached storage (NAS).

"Procom Technology contacted me out of the blue," Lang said. "They told

me that they had a solution that could be connected to my [local-area network]

and up and running in a very short time. They sent a demo unit over to us

about seven months ago. We hooked it up and never sent it back."

Lang said the Procom NetForce 1500 provides 10 drive bays that can deliver

a usable capacity range of between 36G and 511G. His unit is equipped with

seven 30G drives — one is a hot spare and the others are configured as a

RAID Level 5 array. He can grow the capacity of the array by fully populating

the bays and by changing out the 30G capacity drives for higher-capacity

units.

But the ease of setup is what really sold Lang on the product. "They

handed it to me, I plugged it into my TCP/IP network, it picked up its address

from our Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server, and it was about ready

to go," he said. And it only took about an hour of training.

Lang said that three of his network's 15 Compaq Computer Corp. ProLiant

servers access the NAS array without any noticeable performance degradation.

In the future, he may consider SANs again — especially when IP-based ones

appear.

"If you can deploy a SAN using the skills and knowledge of TCP/IP networking

that you already have, then it might become more cost-effective than our

NAS solution," he said. "I am watching that technology."

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