Switching streamlines city's operations

For one Canadian city, a new SAN direction keeps critical operations up and running

Almost one million citizens depend on the city of Calgary's storage area network (SAN) to support vital city services. So, scheduling downtime for upgrades and zone changes was a nightmare for Neil Dumoulin, the city's SAN systems administrator. Unfortunately, scheduling hours of downtime for the city's first SAN system was a constant requirement.

Any business' IT shop knows that downtime equals loss: loss of customers, loss of business and loss of money. For Dumoulin, that standard equation adds up differently. Downtime equals loss of city services, causing loss of quality of life, and -- quite possibly -- loss of life.

In 1999, the city replaced its direct-attached storage (DAS) system with a Brocade SilkWorm 2800-based SAN. As Calgary's storage volumes grew, data availability quickly became a problem.

Because of the Brocade SAN's lack of non-disruptive code load and activation capabilities, "we would have to schedule outages to all the servers that were on the SAN to do firmware upgrades," said Dumoulin. Many of the city's mix of 35 Unix, Windows NT and Exchange servers supported 24/7 services such as emergency medical, transit, water and sewage facilities. Dumoulin's team worked a lot of graveyard shifts, hoping that no emergencies occurred while servers were down.

So, the IT team had to add switches as the city's storage needs grew. "As we added more switches, jumping a server to the SAN without doing more than one or two hops was impossible," said Dumoulin. "It degrades performance to have more than one or two hops."

After getting up to five SilkWorm 2800 switches and 80 ports, "we knew that getting another switch wasn't going to resolve our problems," said Dumoulin.

Finally, Dumoulin felt stymied his current SAN's management tools. The system didn't have tools for gathering statistics on servers, switches, ports and load balancing, so, time-consuming visual checkups were used.

As the problems mounted, the city's IT managers were determined to find a better SAN. Their requirements were simple, yet demanding: 99.999% availability, seamless scalability and comprehensive, easy-to-use management software.

After evaluating SAN solutions from two vendors, the team chose Broomfield, CO-based McData Corp. Price was the deciding factor. "We didn't have to give up anything to get a price that was within our budget," said Dumoulin.

Working with two McData engineers, six city IT staffers deployed the SAN and transferred 10 terabytes (TB) of data in eight hours. Outages ran an hour or two per server maximum with no unscheduled downtime.

"It went very smoothly," said Dumoulin. "The longest part was running the new cables."

The new SAN included McData's Intrepid 6000 Series Directors, Sphereon 3000 Fabric Switches and 1000 Series Loop Switches, combined with Hitachi Data Systems' Freedom Storage 9960 storage system.

The Intrepid 6000 directors fulfilled the city's requirement for non-disruptive code load and activation capabilities. The 2 GB multiprotocol directors offer ultra-high availability. They also have the added advantage of being able to handle both mainframe and open systems data traffic.

No more piling switch upon switch upon switch, Dumoulin said. The high-port density of the Sphereon 3000 switches offers optimal scalability, performance and availability. Four McData switches hold 144 ports.

The new SAN is now easily managed. In fact, managing 16 TB of data requires only about 20 hours weekly. "We now have a set of tools that our operations staff can use to easily monitor any activity on our SAN," said Dumoulin. "We have been able to track the source of problems in minutes."

Dumoulin and Calgary's IT team couldn't be happier with the features they demanded from their SAN. Dumoulin predicts that Calgary's storage volume will grow 40% yearly for the next few years. He feels confident that the new SAN can handle that. "Now, we feel we have a lot of room for growth," he said.

For more information on Calgary, take a look at the city's Web site.

Additional information on McData can be found here.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC:

>> Brocade vs. McData: Who's really winning in switch technology?

>> SAN topologies: Know your switch options

>> Q&A: Expert skeptical about 'intelligent' storage switches


This was first published in March 2003

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