Shared storage is a requirement for many more organisations now than just a few years ago. To fully leverage server virtualisation, SMBs need access to shared storage resources. And while affordable NAS storage will support virtual machine and file serving needs, there are cases such as database use where block access is a must.
But SAN storage isn’t usually cheap. Deploying Fibre Channel infrastructure is costly in capital and operational expenditures. Storage vendors have begun to address the entry-level SAN segment of the market with low-cost and feature-packed products. In this article we survey the market and ask, Can you get an entry-level SAN for less than $10,000?
Build your own?
We’re defining SAN as storage products from mainstream vendors that deliver service contracts that cover hardware and software. We’re not including software-only solutions that allow a standard server to be converted into a storage array. This approach is obviously low-cost, but it introduces other issues around support and performance.
There are also a number of SOHO devices that provide a wide range of storage features. These will also not be included in this review, as they are typically targeted at home- or small-office users and don’t provide the type of maintenance and support needed by SMBs.
A SAN storage array for less than $10,000 may seem like a tall order, but there are a surprising number of products to choose from that claim to hit that mark. Lower cost shouldn’t mean sacrificing functionality. Here are some of the features you should expect to find on entry-level SAN devices:
Redundant controllers: When centralising storage, availability is a key requirement. The storage array needs to be highly available from two perspectives: hardware failure and maintenance. High levels of uptime are usually achieved by deploying multiple controllers or nodes within the array. If either node is lost, the other picks up the workload for the failed controller. Where possible, each controller should offer independent firmware upgrades, removing the need for a full planned outage of the array.
SAS drives: Typically, low-end arrays ship with SATA drives, which isn’t surprising because SATA is the cheapest type of disk. However, SAS drives are better for performance because they run at a faster rotational speed and have better throughput for mixed workloads. Some vendors offer 2.5-inch SFF (small-form-factor) drives, although these are currently priced at a premium over their standard 3.5-inch counterparts. Don’t expect to see many arrays offering solid-state disks (SSD); at this price point, the array is typically less than the cost of a single SSD.
Protocol support: Most sub-$10,000 arrays provide access only to Ethernet-based protocols such as iSCSI and CIFS/NFS but you can find Fibre Channel on some arrays at this price point. We found only one array in the sample that supported Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). This is an emerging protocol and not yet widely supported, but we can expect to see it become a standard feature within the next few years.
Scalability: Storage demands inevitably increase over time, with estimates placing data growth at between 30% and 100% per year. It’s essential, therefore, to ensure any SAN can grow to meet future requirements. Scalability can be achieved in a number of ways. The initial hardware can be upgraded with additional disks and/or ports, connected to additional disk shelves, or replaced. Where replacement occurs, it is wise to validate whether there is an upgrade path within the same family of products or, if forced outside the product family, whether the same management software can be used. It is possible, for instance, that an upgrade could result in the need to retrain the storage team to work on new software and hardware.
Management: A sub-$10,000 array has a good chance of being deployed into an environment without a dedicated storage team. In this scenario, good and intuitive management software is essential. Many manufacturers have moved toward Web-based dashboard management tools that remove the need to understand the underlying hardware configuration.
HP P2000 G3 MSA: HP’s entry-level SAN products come in at a starting price that slips in just under $10,000 and offer dual controllers with 8 Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity. Unfortunately, this price doesn’t include drives, which can add another $2,000 or more depending on the drive type selected. Maintenance and installation are also optional features not included in the base price. A single P2000 array can scale to 24 TB but can be expanded to192 TB with extra disk shelves.
NetApp FAS2040: The FAS2000 range was introduced by NetApp in 2009 with the FAS2020 and has since been extended with the release of the FAS2040 and FAS2050 arrays. The entry-level FAS2020 sells for just under $10,000. It includes the Data Ontap operating system used across all NetApp FAS arrays, from entry-level to enterprise systems. The FAS2050 provides wide protocol support (CIFS/NFS/FCoE/FC/iSCSI) and is the only array in this evaluation to offer FCoE (FCoE is not available on the FAS2020 or FAS2040). Dual controllers cost extra on all models.
EMC VNXe: The VNXe is a cut-down version of the new VNX range of multiprotocol arrays from EMC, based on the Clariion and Celerra product lines. It is available in two models, the VNXe3100 and the higher-specification VNXe3300. Both models support CIFS/NFS and iSCSI protocols but not Fibre Channel. The VNXe offers simplified management through a Web-based interface called Unisphere. This removes the need for the administrator to understand the details of LUN configuration.
When EMC launched the VNXe in January, the vendor claimed an entry-level price of below $10,000 but did not specify what was included for that price.
Overland Storage SnapSAN S1000: At an entry price of under $7,000, the S1000 provides 4 TB of iSCSI storage. This is configured with a single controller as standard with dual controllers an additional cost option. A wide range of optional connectivity is available, including 10 Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel.
Infortrend EonStor DS: This array supports 24 drives and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel in the S24F-G2840-4 model, in a 4U form-factor array. The base model supports only a single controller and comes in at just about $10,000.
Although the major vendors claim to offer sub-$10,000 products, we can see that this price point is mostly a headline grabber. It is more reasonable to say the entry level for a SAN array is more realistically between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on features and capacity. In the increasingly competitive storage market, vendors need to get a foot in the door, and the $10,000 price point does that. But most SMBs looking for a SAN will need to spend close to double this amount to achieve an acceptable level of availability, capacity and performance.