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
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
"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."