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Geospatial data company virtualises data storage with IBM SAN Volume Controller

Antony Adshead, UK Bureau Chief

Geospatial data company Landmark Solutions has completed a three-month project to replace Hewlett-Packard (HP) EVA arrays with IBM System Storage DS4700s to create new, dual data centres. At the same time, the company virtualised data storage using IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and incorporated existing EMC equipment into a common storage pool.

Landmark Solutions operates from six locations in the UK and Holland. It supplies geospatial data analysis and management, geographic information system (GIS) application development, Web mapping solutions, data capture and digitisation of paper maps for businesses, including South West Water, Scottish Natural Heritage and a number of UK local authorities.

[Using IBM SAN Volume Controller] means the back end is vendor independent, scalable and has shallow upgrade steps.
Vic Cornell
Unix systems administratorLandmark Solutions

Projects usually require large amounts of storage -- up to petabytes in some cases. In the past, each project had its own discrete storage infrastructure. This scenario was untenable due to the overhead it imposed on systems management, as well as the cost and difficulty of upgrading storage subsystems.

"We really needed a storage environment that pooled storage hardware. We'd become tired of developing new solutions for every bid and wanted something more durable -- a general, scalable infrastructure," said Vic Cornell, Unix systems administrator at Landmark Solutions. "If we'd got an EMC CX3-80, for example, we'd have needed a forklift upgrade when we reached capacity. We wanted a smoother upgrade path that was incremental rather than steep in terms of costs."

Late last year Landmark Solutions, with the help of reseller OCF, decided to replace its existing HP EVA arrays and create dual, mirrored pools of storage centered on two IBM DS4700s at two data centres near its Exeter headquarters. Each site has 12 TB of Serial ATA and 8 TB of Fibre Channel (FC). SATA is used for VMware backups, general storage and network-attached storage (NAS), while the FC drives support GIS data on Oracle databases.

Each DS4700 has two clusters of IBM SVC. These provide a virtualisation layer that allows Landmark to combine its existing 16 TB of EMC CX3 Model 20 storage and the new IBM hardware -- as well as storage from any other vendor in the future -- to create a virtual pool of capacity. The HP EVA hardware is currently still in use, but will be decommissioned this year.

The new storage environment also uses IBM General Parallel File System (GPFS). This virtualises files into a single store, allowing documents to be moved or shared between storage hardware. According to the policies that are set, GPFS can also automatically archive files irrespective of hardware location and automatically copy data to Landmark Solutions' disaster recovery (DR) storage site.

Landmark Solutions' Cornell said his team looked at a variety of storage virtualisation products before settling on the IBM solution architected by OCF.

Cornell's team first evaluated EMC's Rainfinity, which is a switch-based virtualisation product. But it was "prohibitively expensive," Cornell said.

Storage subsystems from Pillar Data Systems and BlueArc were also looked at. Again, Cornell rejected these on grounds of high cost as well as vendor lock-in.

The team also looked at a software-based virtualisation product. "We also evaluated InMage [Scout], but this didn't have the depth of features we needed. Also, many software products are Windows only and we have a lot of Unix," Cornell said.

The key benefit for Landmark Solutions is that it now has a flexible pool of storage that can accommodate multiple vendors' hardware with the ability to scale up in relatively cheap increments. Each IBM SAN Volume Controller will cost £20,000, Cornell said. "It means the back end is vendor independent, scalable and has shallow upgrade steps," he said.

When asked if there was anything IBM could do better, Cornell's only complaint is about the user interface. "SVC and GPFS are difficult to set up and have a steep learning curve. For people like me it's not a problem, but for less-experienced staff, say, managing SVC can be difficult," he said. "There's a GUI, but you really need to use the command line and that's not so easy for a less-experienced person."


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