Anite Chooses LeftHand Networks for Highly Available Virtualisation Solution
IT services and system integration company Anite is using LeftHand Networks’ SAN/iQ virtualised iSCSI storage area network solution in its two data centres with their VMware virtual server environment.
Anite is an international software and solutions company whose primary business is the provision of industry-specific solutions based on its deep sector knowledge of the wireless telecoms, public sector, and travel markets. These solutions almost always include at their core the supply of Anite-owned software products. Anite offers a comprehensive service to its customers, including implementation, systems integration, maintenance and managed services, enabling it to maximise customer satisfaction and financial returns.
Jeremy Moss is Group IT Director for Anite. Under his management are two internal geographically-separate data centres, but Anite also has customer-facing managed services centres, and IT systems installed on customer premises run under an outsourcing arrangement. In total Anite has seven data centre sites in the UK.
Anite as a group had grown its data centre infrastructure in a traditional way and ran many individual servers each with their own direct-attached storage or accessing Compaq network-attached storage (NAS) filers. There was no central and shared storage area network (SAN).
Moss described it thus: “Historically Anite has had little islands of IT. We run some fairly standard business applications; we don’t run high-performance applications here. Functionally we supply software and services and we run customer support systems. What we do internally is akin to a small and medium enterprise and not what you would expect from a 1,000-person enterprise.”
Cobbler’s Shoes and Virtualisation
There were too many servers and too many storage silos. “The business suffered from the cobbler’s shoe problem,” was the way Moss summed it up. Things could not continue and there was: “a corporate decision to move energetically to server virtualisation. We selected VMware for server virtualisation.”
This decision affected Anite’s storage infrastructure and the existing silo-type approach was no longer feasible: “We needed shared storage as well, in order to implement the high availability features of VMware Infrastructure 3, including key virtualization features such a VMotion and VMware HA (high availability), and to have the resiliency and data protection that comes with highly available storage.”
“Server virtualisation gives us cost advantages in server refreshes and on its own. But we wouldn’t get the potential server resiliency advantages unless we had storage shared between the servers.” Anite was ultimately looking at the idea of carrying out replication between its data centres so that it had resiliency both at the individual server and at the data centre levels.
These things came together and Anite started looking for potential solutions for its storage problem.
One possibility was Network Appliance, whose products Anite’s local government business offered to its customers. Moss said: “Initially, we looked at that, at a FAS 3020.”
One was supplied to Anite by NetApp as a test product. However, Moss said: “Cost constraints meant we had to look again. The NetApp solution was just too expensive.”
“I put a technical specialist on the case to determine if there was a better solution. He identified LeftHand Networks and its SAN/iQ® software product. We found out two or three things that were positive. LeftHand could provide UK-based support and they were approved and accredited by VMware. That was important to us. We also dealt direct with LeftHand and would have been less comfortable dealing through an intermediary.”
“It runs on an industry-standard platform, which was good for us. That was a concern with NetApp with hardware lock-in. Incremental prices would have been higher.”
LeftHand Networks’ SAN/iQ software clusters a group of industry-standard servers together and combines their individual directly-attached storage into a SAN. It is easy to add nodes (servers) to the cluster and each node adds storage capacity, I/O bandwidth and processing capacity, meaning that overall performance increases with capacity in a linear fashion.
The technology features thin provisioning which means that applications don’t require their total storage capacity installed and allocated up front. This has the benefit of allowing many terabytes of disk to be purchased in the future instead of now, saving money and also obtaining better value in the future as the cost/GB of storage is constantly falling.
“We contacted LeftHand and had a look at the product. My technical guys found out about LeftHand’s Virtual Storage Appliance (VSA) and were excited to go see it.”
VSA is the SAN/iQ software pre-packaged as a VMware virtual machine. It can be downloaded over the Web and installed as an application onto an ESX server. Anite’s technical staff downloaded and inspected it, and were impressed.
Moss’ laptop computer runs ESX and he checked out VSA himself with it: “I was on a business trip to Korea. On the way back I installed two nodes on my laptop. An hour’s work and it was up and running.”
While other passengers read magazines and watched movies Moss had installed and configured a 2-node test SAN on his laptop. It was that straightforward, and very beneficial: “It was extremely useful to help me understand what the technical team was talking about.”
On his return to the UK Anite went into a test phase running through October and into early November, 2007. The LeftHand and NetApp products were tested in parallel. Moss said that: “In terms of ease of configuring and integration LeftHand easily won. We could integrate LeftHand into our Backup Exec regime. NetApp’s NDMP approach made that much harder.”
Based on these and other findings Anite selected the LeftHand shared storage solution.
LeftHand Networks UK sales director Peter Godden said: “It was half the cost of the alternative product, faster-performing, and provided greater availability through having the 2-node clusters at each site.”
Moss described the initial process: “In early November we took our trial LeftHand system and put it online in Anite Telecoms, operating it on HP x86-based servers. We started to migrate back-end data and virtual machine images onto it. It wasn’t hard work. The simplicity of doing it was something we warmed to from the start. It does what it says on the tin. We’ve had absolutely no issues.”
There was an iSCSI link speed issue but that turned out to be caused by cable’s operating at ten percent of their rated speed which was only discovered through the use of the Left Hand product. Replacing the cables fixed that problem.
Implementing Storage Tiers for Different Applications
The current situation is that Anite has a total of 16 nodes in eight paired clusters for resilience, providing around 60 terabytes of capacity. Typically a cluster would use one of LeftHand’s NSM2120 appliances with 12 drives; either 9TB of SATA disk or 3.6TB of faster SAS disk. Clusters are either SAS-based for performance or SATA-based for capacity.
A performance cluster and a capacity cluster can function as a single SAN with files being capable of transfer from one cluster to the other without taking the volume offline. Most Anite sites have a 2-node SAS cluster and a 2-node SATA cluster. The SAS clusters will be used for VMware images, Exchange and SQL Server with SATA clusters acting as file servers via a Windows front-end functioning as a NAS head.
This combined SAN and file-based access is appreciated by Anite because there is no disruptive new technology, with Moss explaining: “We have no need to introduce new skill requirements to our Microsoft team.”
LeftHand nodes are going to be rolled out across other Anite sites along with the VMware cluster servers. The current server pool is itself being migrated to ESX. This ongoing program is anticipated to take about 3-4 months.
Moss said Anite is about to embark on a parallel programme to provide inter-site replication of snapshots across the wide area network. This will reduce the need for tape backups, carried out with an LTO2-based, Dell-badged tape system, and increase the company’s business continuity preparedness. Moss said: “We’ll replicate VM images and data between our sites.”
Anite is transitioning steadily from separate islands of servers and storage to a consolidated combination of virtual servers and virtual storage. The transition is quite manageable with Moss saying: “It’s evolution and not something that has to be done in a big bang fashion. They are still fundamentally Windows servers with storage behind them.”
Would Moss recommend LeftHand? “We absolutely would. It’s live and operational and no issues have arisen.”