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I am in the process of consolidating 6 physical servers running 6 different operating system flavors (don't ask) into two identical physical servers (Dell PowerEdge 2900), using the free VMware ESXi 4.0 platform. We will install an iSCSI SAN over a 1GbE network, and store all virtual machine images on the SAN. Each physical server would run 3 VMs, and in the case of a physical server failure, we would manually switch over the other 3.

These are all internal servers, while important, they can tolerate some amount of downtime (say <1h) to keep cost and complexity associated with HA down.

I now need to choose the SAN to be used for the setup, on a low budget. We currently have about 2TB of data, but of course I want to able to grow, do backups of VM snapshots on other drives and remove them to a different location, etc. So what I would like to know is:

  • Which are the must have features for this setup, without which using a SAN is not worth it?
  • We are mostly a Dell shop, so I have been looking at the EqualLogic PS4000E High Availability model. Any opinions, anecdotes, bad experiences with this model? (This is one of the few models which could accomodate our existing disks from the physical servers.)
  • If you can recommend something that is not Dell, but it has better value, I would most definitely consider it, but be sure it is included on the VMware Compatibility Guide.
  • Caveats, things to look out for?

Update:

I have dropped the EqualLogic model due to the higher price and disk incompatibility. The MD3000i you guys recommended looks great, but I still want to consider other alternatives before deciding.

Can anyone comment on the Fujitsu ETERNUS DX line?

I am still waiting for a quote from our Dell representative for the MD3000i, but I have an idea from the web page for the ballpark. I also have some preliminary prices on the Fujitsu ETERNUS DX60, which suggest that even if I reuse disks in the Dell, the Fujitsu will cost less with the same config, buying new disks.

Decision:

We also took a look at the HP StorageWorks P4300 G3 and P2000 G3 lines. The P2000 G3 line has FibreChannel/iSCSI combo controllers, and is more expensive than the Dell and Fujitsu, even without any disk. The P4300 G3 line has iSCSI only models, but they force you to buy a system with all 16 disks, so it ends up too expensive as well.

We got very similar quotes of about 6K Euros for both the Dell and Fujitsu with 4 x 1TB Nearline SAS disk in RAID10. Since we Dell already supplied us various hardware and we have a good relationship with them, we chose the PowerVault MD3000i.

Many thanks to everyone for your input!

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I'd be very surprised if the EQL PS 4000 can be populated with any disks not sold by Dell explicitly for the purpose. If you have a guarantee of that in writing from Dell then by all means go with it but I would not expect it to be something they would support. –  Helvick Apr 4 '10 at 19:38
    
We have several 250GB 7200 RPM hot-swappable SATA drives in the PowerEdge Servers, and the PS4000E does support 250GB SATA drives. I /assumed/ it would accept the drives we already have, but thanks for the warning, I will definitely double-check, since this has a major weight in my cost analysis. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 4 '10 at 20:18
    
I would be surprised if you it will work with any off the shelf drive. Most SANs, and lately Dell's as well, will not work with drives not supplied by the SAN vendor. –  Craig Apr 6 '10 at 5:00
    
I did check with Dell, and the EQL does not support my existing drives. They confirmed however, that the MD3000i does, but I might need to perform a firmware update, which they will provide. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 7 '10 at 18:47
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6 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'm no expert on equallogic, but Dell's md3000i might cover all your needs: 15 drives in the basic setup, and you can expand it with up to 2 (or maybe even 3, can't remember) MD1000 boxes, 15 drives in each.

The boxes are well supported on ESX or any other hypervisor you might choose

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The md3000i seems like it would be a good choice here, assuming it is in your budget. It is one of the more affordable solutions around considering its feature-set. –  MDMarra Apr 4 '10 at 18:21
    
Yes, I have also looked at the MD3000i, and I really liked the expandability, but at over $12K, it's out of our budget. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 4 '10 at 18:26
    
If you're on a tight budget, you might want to just stick with DAS. SANs aren't cheap, as they provide quite a few features you probably wouldn't use. –  Chris S Apr 5 '10 at 3:55
    
Sorry, I didn't realise the EQL could be cheaper than the MD –  dyasny Apr 5 '10 at 9:25
    
No, I am sorry (unless the previous comment was sarcasm :P) for confusing everyone. When I started looking at Dell's SAN offerings, I didn't know EqualLogic was a different company which they bought. They had EQL products on the web site, with the lowest end on the left, highest end on the right. And the last one was the PowerVault. No EQL SAN had price, only the PowerVault, so I wrongfully assumed that the EQL line is cheaper. As a few searches proved after I read about your skepticism, I was wrong, EQL does seem to be more expesive. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 5 '10 at 11:05
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Small shop? Dont go hardware. BUy a decent server that ALSO does virtualization SAN.

  • You can easiyl get servers that can host a lot of discs. Good value is a Case from SUpermicro - 2 rack units, 24 disc slots. OTherwise get a significant (i.e. large) case with many 2.5" slows and put in SuperMicro 2.5.25" to 8x2.5" trays - 8 discs in 2 2.5" slots with SAS backplane.

  • Make the server decently powerfull. RUn on it what you want. Anyhow...

  • StarWind has a nice relatively low cost ISCSI target software for windows. Use it to expose ISCSI targets as needed. FOr high performance dump out and expose a compelte RAID set on the host.

I Think this gives you a lot better valuie for the money than buying a dedicated box.

If that is still too high a budget (btw., I run a setup like that - very happy with it), you can use a Thecus / QNAP etc. NAS / SAN combo. The QNAP SS839 looks really nice - as does the 859. put in fast discs WD Velociraptor) and it should be "good enough" in a positive sense. For a much better price. AND noise - actually given 2 decent servers and a QNAP - you can make without server room. Any rack equipment is NOISY.

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And when the server with the disks dies, so does the whole network. The questions specifically asks for SAN ideas where host server fail-over is possible. –  Chris S Apr 5 '10 at 3:52
    
So? Get two of those. Set up high availability automatic failover. It is not like Starwind and ANY other professional iScsi target do not support that. Use HA failover, 2 of those and you get all in one - servers, SAN, virtualization. HA is nonsense, though, if you can handle a half an hour downtime, as the poster said he can. Costs a lot and has no benefit in this scenario. –  TomTom Apr 5 '10 at 6:03
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In your planning make sure to take into account the cost to expand beyond the basic SAN unit. If the basic SAN unit holds 15 drives, how much does it cost to add the 16th? Can you add a cheaper disk tray/chassis, or in the case of the Equallogic do you have to buy an entire additional SAN unit?

If it is going to be a mixed use SAN, what is the performance needs of your use cases?

BTW, i've got a quote for an MD3000i with 4TB+ of SATA II 1TB drives (with sparing, RAID5) in the $7K range.

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The 12k came from a superficial first look, while looking around. After seeing the recommendations, I configured one on their web, removing a lot of stuff we don't need, and the price came down to 8K EUR. Unfortunately, I have to pay European prices. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 7 '10 at 19:00
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Before you commit to a SAN, look at getting a NetApp NAS (can use iSCSI or NFS). Deduplication technology, plug and play off-site hot/cold failover down the road.

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Hmm, after a few searches, it looks like NetApp actually mixes SAN and NAS functionality in their solutions, so they are kind of a hybrid. Thanks for the tip, I will investigate further the FAS200. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 7 '10 at 21:37
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Have a look at the FAS2020; here's a handy price list for storage too (love this guy's site): storagemojo.com/storagemojos-pricing-guide/netapp-price-guide –  gravyface Apr 7 '10 at 22:16
    
Great link! Unfortunately management said there are no NetApp distributors in our area and they prefer to work with a local distributor. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 8 '10 at 8:54
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I haven't priced an EQL PS4000 recently but I'm surprised that it's significantly less expensive than the MD3000i. If it is (and if they will support you reusing your existing drives) then by all means go for it. They are great entry level iSCSI SAN devices that would be ideal for your use case. As far as configuration and on going management are concerned they are about as easy as it gets, and if you do decide you need to grow\expand your SAN at any stage they are really easy to extend.

As far as cheaper options are concerned you could go the NAS route, there are quite a few entry level NAS devices that are certified by VMware that are quite cheap. Their performance and availability wont match either the PS 4000 or the MD3000i (unless you buy a NAs that costs more or less the same) but if you are willing to live with that there are cheaper options. The best strategy is to search the VMware Compatibility Guide for entry level (but business grade) NAS products (e.g. from Iomega, QNAP, Thecus etc) and then check out their support forums to see if they are known to be problematic. I can't give you much better advice than that as I've never used one of these in a production environment.

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As I said in a comment to dyasny, I was wrong about the pricing, see there why. I will now ask for a quote from our Dell partner, see what the boss has to say about it, and decide the direction to go. –  Prof. Moriarty Apr 5 '10 at 11:07
    
As TomTom points out in his answer it seems likely that for your use case something like the QNAP\Thecus NAS\iSCSI products may be quite a good fit for you. There's no point paying for 99.99[..99] capability in a high availability SAN if you can live with 30mins-1hour unplanned downtime. –  Helvick Apr 5 '10 at 11:48
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For only 6 servers for a small shop my guess is your IO/uptime/performance needs are not that high. I would seriously consider running them just on disks on one or two of the servers you have using ESXi.

Use whatever backup solution you already have.

I have that setup at work for servers that I want to be apart from the 6 host ESX setup I have, just a single HP 2U server with lots of memory and a few disks.

You dont have to spend money when you dont have to :)

edit, The ESXi version doesnt really gain anything from a shared storage, but the ESX+VirtualCenter really does gain alot. Thats why focusing on a shared storage is in my opinion a waste.

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