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Animal charity opts for clustered NAS over iSCSI SAN

Antony Adshead, UK bureau chief
Animal welfare charity The Blue Cross has implemented an 11-site clustered NAS product improving its backup and resiliency in the process. The organisation chose Adaptec's file-level storage technology in preference to an EMC Clariion iSCSI SAN in an £18,000 project which reflects the appeal of NAS technology to SMEs and branch office applications.

The Blue Cross has adoption centres, hospitals, shops and regional offices across the UK and generates 10 gigabytes to 20 GB of business data daily at each office on 25 Dell servers which run Microsoft Office and Exchange as well as its home grown Claws animal rehoming system, which comprises documents and image files.

EMC seemed an expensive option, more aimed at enterprise users than ourselves
Wayne Morris
Project implementation managerThe Blue Cross
The existing backup and recovery strategy involved a local PC at each office used as a file server which was backed up via ADSL to a Buffalo single drive NAS device at head office. The Blue Cross IT team wanted a more effective solution that removed reliance on the local PC as a storage device and gave greater central visibility to the data backup and sychronisation process.

Wayne Morris, project implementation manager at The Blue Cross says, "The central PC was also being used by a user and there were just too many eggs in one basket if there was an issue or if performance suffered."

The solution adopted by the Blue Cross in a project which completed in September last year comprises an Adaptec Snap Server 520 with 1 TB capacity at the Burford, Oxfordshire, HQ site plus 12 Snap Server 210s with 500 GB capacity at the remote sites. Adaptec uses its own 64-bit Linux-based GuardianOS, which enables file sharing to Windows, Apple and Unix/Linux clients and its Enterprise Data Replicator software links the distributed Snap Servers into a single, centrally managed cluster.

Using EDR the local Snap Server 210s back up once a day to the Snap Server 520. Data from the 520 is backed up each day to a Dell Datavault tape library and tapes stored off-site overnight.

Morris says, "We're able to manage every device around the country, whether we're creating RAID volumes or setting new backup and replication requirements, from one central location. What we also liked about the Adaptec solution was its ability to partition to different OSs. We aggregate data from the 210s to the 520 where each server's data is put into separate folders."

When deciding on a solution Morris also weighed up the possibility of implementing EMC Clariion AX100i iSCSI SAN hardware, but rejected it as too costly and complex for the organisation's needs.

"EMC seemed an expensive option, more aimed at enterprise users than ourselves," says Morris. "The question was, did we need to go towards a SAN solution at this stage, and the answer was no. We saw it more as an enterprise solution that would have cost more to implement and more to run in terms of skills and management. We didn't need the type of capacity offered – our organisation is not at that stage."

The choices made by The Blue Cross represent those open to smaller organisations seeking storage solutions which are easy to implement and manage. Where the options were once between NAS and Fibre Channel – with all its overheads in terms of cost and skills requirements – there is now the possibility of iSCSI SAN, says Claus Egge, analyst group IDC.

"Historically NAS was a clear alternative to SAN when it was a choice between NAS or Fibre Channel SAN and the fact you could put a storage server on a shared LAN made a lot of sense," he says. "Now there is a choice between Fibre Channel and iSCSI SAN and that is affecting the NAS market for reasonable sized IT departments."

He adds, "However, for smaller storage demands the NAS market is still good and NAS is good for the user that doesn't want to consider the type of complexity that comes with a SAN, even an iSCSI one. But, perhaps performance is the key issue. NAS could present a bottleneck in this regard and if a user cannot cope with that, they will look at a SAN solution."

NAS has also developed more sophisticated functionality in recent years and can go head-to-head with SANs for branch office and workgroup applications as well as in SMEs. Features such as RAID and hot swappable drives are standard in many NAS systems while clustering, such as implemented by Blue Cross, provides for even greater resiliency says Sue Clarke, analyst with the Butler Group.

She says, "It is increasingly common for users to use clusters of NAS over several sites to provide a disaster recovery capability, with devices mirroring to each other. That way, especially as a small organisation, you can use the devices as online storage but also by replicating to each other, provide resiliency in case of problems without just having storage that sits idle until disaster occurs."


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