Finding the right data storage compromise

The Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE) supports the civil engineering necessary to clean up Air Force bases from Cape Cod to San Francisco and overseas. That means multiple terabytes of data on dozens of facilities for the use of thousands of government employees and contractors. 'Not only do we have to make this data available on SharePoint sites, we also have to retain it for 50 years,' said Ralph Miles, network administrator and information system security officer at AFCEE.

In addition to the sheer quantity of storage, AFCEE had to deal with other requirements. It was looking for a network-attached storage solution to which it could connect servers without requiring a dedicated server. The storage solution also had to accommodate existing direct-attached storage. What's more, management had to be simple for administrators.

AFCEE settled on an ONStor Bobcat NAS gateway to a Xyratex back-end disk array with 26T of raw disk space. Deduplication enables 25T of data to fit in only 6T of space, which also helps reduce the amount of data necessary for disaster recovery. The solution also allows simple access to the existing drives. The NAS gateway now permits IP connections to connect the back side via Fibre Channel. Other devices can run off Fibre Channel switches in the fabric. Using Fibre Channel over IP removes the distance limitations usually encountered with Fibre Channel. 'We anticipate combining an iSCSI device with NAS to handle block [input and output] for databases and similar block-oriented applications,' Miles said.

Although AFCEE had specific requirements, it also had leeway in other areas. For example, exceptional access time was not essential. 'We don't have users hitting huge databases,' Miles said. Because users can't tell the difference between Serial Advanced Technology Attachment and Fibre Channel drives, super-fast drives aren't important, which saves acquisition costs.

Miles advised a just-in-time approach to storage.

'Try to stay six months to a year ahead of what you need,' he said.


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