Melbourne IT bets on fibre channel for growth drive

Hosting and online services company Melbourne IT says IP storage is not yet reliable enough to form the infrastructure it will use as the basis for a tripling of its storage pool.

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Online services company Melbourne IT has passed on IP storage and chosen an IBM SAN and Brocade switches as the infrastructure to underpin an expected tripling in the amount of storage it operates and move the company away from dedicated servers for its clients into a virtualised environment.

"There is a lot of talk about IP storage but we believe fibre channel is the way to deliver storage today," says Alec Lawson, the company's CIO.

"It is proven, flexible, reliable, proven in this environment and it basically works."

Those qualities are important to Lawson because Melbourne IT has just added a new SAN to cope with the additional storage requirements from customers of its WebCentral hosting business.

"We are doing more work with businesses like media and sports organisations that are content-rich," Lawson says. "We are also seeing uptake of lots of new managed Exchange inboxes, and people are not deleting mail from those inboxes. The days of 50 megabyte inbox quotas are gone. That limit is now two gigabytes."

One reason for that increase, he says, is compliance worries that lead business to store data indefinitely rather than archive or delete.

"People are retaining and retaining and retaining all sorts of data," he says, and while this means more storage work for Melbourne IT, clients are happy to outsource the function. "We find that when you are not managing it yourself it is easier to sign the cheque to a supplier each month that it is to employ people and buy equipment to manage the data yourself."

The combined effect of this trend, Lawson says, was a need for Melbourne IT to ensure its storage infrastructure is particularly scalable.

"We have between 250 and 300 terabytes of storage under management at present," he says. "We estimate it will go to a petabyte pretty quickly so we need to get the core infrastructure we have in place to get there in this round of purchases."

Hence the choice of fibre channel, IBM and Brocade, a combination Lawson feels will give Melbourne IT the ability to rapidly adapt its environment as clients as for more storage or request temporary resource increases.

"A lot of our business is built on dedicated severs," Lawson says. "If you have dedicated disk and servers it can seem quite cost effective on face value. But when you look at the TCO it does not stack up."

"So rather than buying new storage when a new customer comes along we decided to acquire finding cheaper, faster better ways of provisioning."

"Our whole strategy is about provisioning and load balancing the SAN. We do this with SANs from IBM and HDS plus switches from Brocade. We think the mixed model is right for us."

"IBM is our current vendor of choice for servers and storage, partly because we think they are doing great things with VMWare."

But while this round of purchases has seen Lawson opt for established technologies, his mind is open to the notion that IP storage could one day meet the company's needs

"We are always looking at where technology is going," he says. "When something else comes along like IP storage or virtualisation form Microsoft we will be looking at it to see if it benefits the customers."

"But customers come to us because they trust and fibre channel is the best for us today."

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