Storage Supports The Troops
Integrator Crystal Group met the tough storage requirements of a government agency needing to store data from the Global Broadcast Service.
Dave Medin, director of technology for storage integrator Crystal Group Inc (Hiawatha, IA) has done a lot of work in the government sector. When a consultant approached him recently to assist with a proposal for a government defense agency, Medin was thrilled to climb on board.
"We have worked with this consultant for a long time," says Medin. "The consultant was hired by a government contractor to architect a mobile military information terminal. There was a storage requirement associated with the system, and the consultant required our expertise to help them design it." The system was to be part of the Global Broadcast Service (GBS) and would have both field and data center (fixed location) attributes. GBS uses satellite technology to provide critical information to the nation's soldiers. The space-based system is a communications link for the flow of information from the United States or rear echelon locations to forces deployed around the world.
"GBS is an extension of the Defense Information Systems Network [DISN]," says Medin. "It collects data from, and provides it to, military terminals. Storage is obviously a large component of the system. The problem we faced was how to store and disseminate all of the data being collected by the system. We were asked to put together the server and storage portion of the solution."
Vendors Need To Know The Rules
Crystal Group manufactures servers for industrial and government applications, but Medin still had to select a vendor to supply the storage hardware. One of the first requirements of the solution was environmental ruggedness. Medin also wanted a storage partner that had a track record in military systems. "We wanted someone that understood the requirements of being successful in a military program," he says. "The vendor would need to understand the military's requirements relating to logistics and repair parts. They had to be able to speak the military's language."
A primary concern for the government is how equipment is to be serviced. A whole bureaucracy exists to oversee servicing and repair parts, and vendors selling to the government are expected to understand the system. "We selected Dot Hill as the vendor to work with because of their track record and reputation in the government market," says Medin. "Vendors that are not familiar with the government procurement and maintenance systems will find themselves facing a huge paperwork burden. We wanted to work with a vendor that is already familiar with the system and could therefore avoid the burden."
Fibre Channel Yields Faster Throughput
GBS has been around since about 1996, and the equipment the government was using to handle the information was no longer adequate. "The throughput was not fast enough," says Medin. "Since the time the original solution was put in place, there have also been advances in Fibre Channel storage that now allow for greater performance and flexibility of the storage architecture."
The Dot Hill storage product Crystal Group selected is called SANnet. SANnet is a storage solution that features both Fibre Channel and SCSI (small computer system interface) RAID (redundant array of independent disks)-based drive arrays. The arrays are called SANnet because they can be connected together and fashioned in such a way that they form a storage area network. Medin used four Fibre Channel SANnet arrays from Dot Hill's 7000 series.
The program was very demanding in terms of the amount of throughput that was required. The guidelines Medin received called for 60 MB/s sustained throughput through a single server. Medin sat down with Dot Hill engineers to determine if SANnet could meet the requirements. "The engineers looked at the specifications, performed some calculations, and determined how the SANnet solution would have to be configured to meet the requirements," he explains. "Other vendors did not have that type of expertise available. We would have had to try all of the units first to see if they met the requirements, and we simply did not have that much time available."
The Right Solution For A Tough Environment
Medin has had problems with some storage products in the past. The problems typically result from shoddy construction. "We look for adequate cooling, because the storage solutions we use typically have a lot of drives packed into a small space," he says. "That always creates heat problems." According to Medin, each 10 degree centigrade increase in temperature will cut the expected life of an electronic device in half. "The ability to remove heat is our major evaluation criteria in choosing a storage vendor, and on that criteria Dot Hill's products always rate well," he says.
Like most Fibre Channel products, SANnet is not priced for small data centers. "The industrial nature of the product raises the cost too much," says Medin. "It is the Mercedes of storage products, and is probably too rugged and robust for many applications."
Meeting The Time Restraints
After selecting the appropriate product, the biggest problem Medin faced was time. The customer was evaluating solutions from many different vendors, and had a tight timeframe in which to complete the testing. "We had less than a day to get the system set up and running," he recalls. "When we walked into the customer's evaluation lab we found it required a lot of troubleshooting and development."
Medin's team spent a lot of time and effort to perfect the customer's lab and once the problems were corrected, the installation was done in less than half a day. "It was just a matter of hooking everything up and running power and cables to everything," he says. "Dot Hill has a lot of diagnostics built into their equipment that made the evaluation pretty straightforward."
Medin's solution met the evaluation criteria, and is still in the running for the contract. "We are now on the acceptable vendor list," he says. "The customer purchased one system from the lot and we will find out in the next few months if we will be able to sell them additional units."