This is a discussion about our storage decisions over that past two years and how we found a robust solution that fits our needs without a huge investment.
As a Law Firm, we know that our systems need to be up and performing optimally 24/7 365 days a year. Time is money and with the economy we are in now every little bit counts. With my past experience in the storage arena, I knew that every storage purchase has its caveats. I have seen and heard the horror stories when a large storage purchase is made and then a year later you run out of space. I didn’t want this to happen to us. When I started at the Firm, I was tasked with making sense of the current leased NetApp FAS2050 storage. I found it easy to manage; however, it was a lease and we paid for any additional space we consumed beyond our initial lease terms. With continued growth we easily consumed more space than our lease provided costing us additional money and crippling performance. After crunching the numbers, I made the recommendation that it would be more cost effective to buy a SAN to use for our VMware, SQL, and Exchange environments. We had our ideal NetApp solution but due to cost we reluctantly decided to purchase a less ideal solution. Within 6 months the less ideal solution was showing its flaws. We were running out of space and performance was suffering. I anticipated we would run into issues, but not as quickly as we did. With performance issues lingering we needed to find a new solution and didn’t want to end up in the same place in another 6 months. One thing I did know was I needed to find a solution and not break the bank. It also needed to support a 6 host VMware server environment along with Exchange 2010, multiple SQL instances, and some very performance intensive file storage. We also wanted something that would support a Virtual Desktop environment in the future. I discovered dozens of solutions at VMworld which gave me a starting point. In addition, we had an application upgrade budgeted that included money for storage. I understood how much space and what type of IOP requirements were needed to be a sustainable solution, but finding a vendor that had the best of both worlds was difficult. The three vendors below seemed like good options to explore as they were all capable systems with some sort of hybrid solid state ability as well.
Since we were already highly invested in NetApp, I looked to them first. I knew our current systems were struggling and staying with them would mean a large investment again. After weeks of discussions they proposed a solution that provided 25,000-50,000 IOPS with roughly 50TB of storage. The cost was significantly above our budget and would have been a full rack of disk shelves. They also couldn’t provide us with a guaranteed IOP number.
HP 3 Par
We liked 3 Par and it would have been our second choice but it still was a disk based storage system. It would have required lots of spinning disks and the rack space was similar to NetApp. Performance was better but they didn’t have 10Gb connectivity until their next release. Licensing was going to be expensive as well. Their IOP count was around 50,000 and their cost was similar to NetApp.
One of our application vendors recommended Hitachi. I knew from experience that they did have a good product and it performed. They were probably the only disk based storage vendor that really understood our requirements and could provide real performance numbers. Again it was a rack of disks and the price was significantly over budget. About twice that of NetApp and 3 Par.
After seeing what the 3 top disk based storage vendors had to offer, it was clear to me we needed to move in a different direction. I saw quite a few hybrid systems at VMworld and decided to look at what they had to offer. With the advent of solid state storage and FusionIO, hybrid vendors have come up with very viable solutions. The only challenge at this point is cost. Most solid state solutions become quite expensive due to the quantity of disks required. I made calls to the major players in the hybrid arena and ended up looking at the following vendors. The top 3 I researched are listed below. Other vendors I ruled out due to capacity limitations or their likelihood of being around in a few years.
We were introduced to Violin at a local HP event and were impressed at their solution. Being relatively new to the market they didn't have some of the features we needed and the cost wasn't acceptable. They did however offer the type of performance we were looking for. They really are at this point application specific storage not an enterprise storage solution.
I found PureStorage at VMworld and was impressed at their design and performance. They also had the basic features we wanted which included snapshots and replication. Since they use Solid State drives it was easy to see that their solution was going to be expensive. Once I saw the price there was no way we could fit it into our budget. It definitely should become less expensive as Solid State drives come down in price.
I also saw NexGen Storage at VMworld. After a couple of days of VMworld I was burned out on sales pitches so I didn't get a chance to see their system in action. After making cold calls to the remaining storage vendors I got a call back from NexGen. After a short discussion with Sales I confirmed that NexGen was new to the market however the people behind it are not. They also gave me ballpark pricing which was well within our budget. We ended up setting up a meeting so we could understand their solution in detail.
The meeting with NexGen went extremely well. They explained how their system uses FusionIO combined with inexpensive hard drives to achieve the highest IOP/GB per dollar we could find. Their software also compliments their system with the ability to provide storage QOS (Quality of Service). It is very similar to storage tiers in the 3Par and Hitachi world. The main difference is you do not need tiers of different types of storage. They did lack the other features we were looking for like snapshots and replication but assured us it was coming. We were also concerned about their viability and sustainability in the market. They offered to bring our CIO and myself out to their headquarters in Lousiville, Colorado to meet with their CEO John Spiers, and CTO Kelly Long who are the original founders of LeftHand Networks. This also gave us a chance to see their solution in action and meet everyone on the NexGen team. We were thoroughly impressed and had quite a bit of thinking to do on the flight home. After a few weeks and deep discussion we made the decision to go with NexGen Storage.
So you probably are asking why NexGen and what did it cost?
Our main reason for NexGen was their performance guarantee along with cost. We ended up getting a solution that provides the lowest $/IOP and $/GB on the market to date. Another huge benefit is the 3U of rackspace per 33TB of useable storage.
We did need to move our VMware backup and replication from the NetApp Virtual Storage Console to Veeam at an additional cost however it provides a much better backup and replication solution. We also no longer needed VMware SRM and instead of only 25% of our VM’s being replicated for instant recovery all of our VM’s are protected.
The best thing about NexGen is the ease of installation and use. It literally took less than an hour to install and configure before I was migrating VM’s.
Performance so far has been remarkable. The first gain I've noticed is with the guest OS. The OS now acts like it is on a physical machine instead of being sluggish and jumpy. One of our biggest issues has been one of our document management applications. The application requires a document repository that contains millions of files within a complex folder structure. My first test was to see how fast Windows could scan the directory and provide the directory properties. This being the size of the directory along with the file count. I started both scans about the same time. Within 5 minutes the NexGen side was done scanning 600GB and over 5,000,000 files while the NetApp scan was only at 10%.
At this point I have only tested the basics. I have noticed that the Read/Write latency is much lower on everything I move. Once I get everything migrated I will provide an update with my findings.
NexGen is definitely worth taking a look at if you have a tight budget but require high performance.