Tiered storage tops for smaller budgets, says City IT chief

Ryan Sclanders of CMA talks about why tiered storage helps him get high-performance storage on a budget, and the pain of backup and capacity management.

Tiered storage allows an organisation to be sure its most-needed data is on the best-performing drives while less-frequently needed data is placed on inexpensive disk. That's a key advantage over SAN subsystems in which data is poured and set as if in concrete. It's a massive advantage for a business like Credit Market Analysis (CMA), which implemented a Compellent Storage Center SAN to support a VMWare server virtualisation project that saved the business £300,000 in its first six months of going live.

The challenge of that upgrade was a big cause for satisfaction for Ryan Sclanders, CMA's IT infrastructure services team manager, who spoke this week with SearchStorage.co.UK bureau chief Antony Adshead as part of our Storage Pro-File series.

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Sclanders talks about the benefits of tiered storage to a smaller business and why he believes NetApp is wrong about its stance on the technology, why backup in a follow-the-sun organisation is a big challenge and the pain of SAN capacity planning.

SearchStorage.co.UK: How did you get into storage?

Sclanders: In South Africa I worked at an ISP and had to cover a very broad area in IT and that's when I got involved in shared storage. I spent four years working for the ISP but decided I needed to experience what Europe had to offer. So I came to the UK where I joined professional services company Netdecisions as a network architect.

In that role I had to adapt and design networks according to project/system, costs and performance requirements. This meant I had to know a lot about the different types of systems, networks, services, and backup and storage options to do my job and design some rather large networks.

SearchStorage.co.UK: How do you think storage is viewed by other parts of IT and the business, and what's the best way of bridging the gap between them?

Sclanders: I've never found there to be any gap to bridge between storage and the rest of the business. Some of those in IT and the developers know about our storage setup and think what we can do with it is pretty cool, but everyone else is completely oblivious to it, and it's best that way.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What's the biggest challenge you face in your job as a storage professional?

Sclanders: We don't have a dedicated storage architect and we need to analyse performance to carry out capacity planning. Each quarter I have to take time to analyse metrics such as disk usage, I/O, including by tier, volume growth, test and development requirements etc. It takes up a lot of time and I have to schedule in one week every quarter, but we need to be proactive so that if we add volumes to the SAN we're not caught out.

The biggest challenge at CMA has been to completely redesign the infrastructure to move from direct-attached storage on a small amount of servers to shared storage. This rebuild had to accommodate a number of very large transaction-based databases in a scalable, stable virtual server infrastructure, all replicated to a disaster recovery [DR] environment.

The solution was to put corporate data, backups and disaster recovery on two Compellent storage devices. Using VMware and Compellent Data Progression tiered storage significantly reduced the costs in the number of systems, and created cost savings in licensing and the number of disks we had to purchase.

We run about 300 virtual servers and 60 physical servers, including eight SQL database servers, off our Compellent SANs and are able to maintain a high level of disk I/O performance while lowering costs due to the built-in tiered storage technology. All of this helped me to design and deploy a relatively advanced, redundant, stable and scalable high-performance environment while keeping to a small budget.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What's the biggest frustration you face in your job?

Sclanders: Backups are very challenging at CMA because we have a number of clients in New York, Singapore and Europe. Our database maintenance and backup plans require a huge amount of data to be backed up in a very small time window. If backups and maintenance overrun into a working day, the impact on client performance is severe. As our clients manage billions of dollars of investment capital, any delay has meaningful impact on their business and performance.

We back up 6 TB a day to two 24 TB SANs. We use LiteSpeed for SQL to back up databases and use SAN-based replication to the disaster recovery site; we then mount to the backup server using Symantec Backup Exec.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What could storage vendors do better?

Sclanders: Regarding the SAN, Compellent could do bettering alerting and monitoring systems. From my perspective, I need a monitoring tool that's easy to understand for people outside the technical department, such as SNMP monitoring for the SAN. Each SAN has its own monitoring tool but they need to be integrated.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What new storage technologies of recent years do you consider to be the most valuable innovations?

Sclanders: Tiered storage. For a smaller company like ours that wants to spend as little as possible, automated storage tiering is ideal and allows us to move data off to more cost-effective media.

I saw recently that NetApp says tiered storage is a dying technology, but I couldn't disagree more. NetApp said tiering will be replaced by a huge cache of flash on the controller, like RAM instead of disk, but it's going to take a long time to reach the market, will cost an arm and a leg, and seems like just another way of doing tiering anyway.

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