EMC's SAN is an easy install

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Network World editor plows his way through installation of the SOHO SAN in a mere 32 minutes.

EMCDellHP and QLogic have been busy touting easy-to-implement and affordable storage-area networks that even a small office administrator can install.

We put one to the test. Network World Multimedia Editor Jason Meserve installed and configured a $5,000 EMC Clariion AX100 in 32 minutes last month at EMC's offices in Hopkinton, Mass. The AX100 debuted in May.

Multimedia: Installing the AX100

Watch Meserve in action

Traditional direct-attached storage can be difficult to manage and expand. A SAN provides better storage utilization by letting a network administrator view data on an entire SAN from any server.

The AX100 storage array, which comes with a single or dual controllers, has a minimum of eight 250G-byte Serial Advanced Technology Attachment drives for a total of 2T bytes. A single controller array will support two servers; a dual-controller array will support up to four.

Meserve - who only has experience installing PCs and network adapters - took the AX100 storage array out of the box, unfolded the 11-step installation poster, plugged in the array and turned it on.

He did however ask for help lifting it out of the box.

After powering on the array, he connected it to Windows Server, already installed. Two Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBA) - similar in function and installation to network adapters, they connect servers to storage - were also pre-installed. Meserve connected the array to the HBAs in the server via separate fiber-optic cables.

While the EMC AX100 was easy to install, along the way, Meserve asked EMC support engineers for confirmation that he was doing things correctly. He was.

EMC sells the AX100 through value-added resellers listed on its site, as well as outlets such as Dell, Computer Discount Warehouse, Tech Data and Avnet. If you go the latter route, you'll need to buy the HBAs and fiber-optic cable separately.

Meserve connected the AX100 directly to the server. If you have more than four host computers to attach, another option is to add a Fibre Channel switch. A QLogic eight-port SANbox 5200 stackable switch costs $3,400 at dell.com.

Next, he launched the Navisphere Storage System Initialization utility and registered the HBA with the AX100 by adding an available IP address. Then he started Navisphere Express and opened Internet Explorer. In the browser navigation window, he entered the same IP address.

Step by step

The 11-step poster is clear and easy to understand. Initial steps include: prepare your site; prepare your server; and unpack the storage system. For brevity, EMC prepared the site and server for Meserve, who started on Step 3. From there, he performed these steps: install the AX100/AX100SC; connect AC power; power up the AX100/AX100SC switch(es) and UPS; and connect the storage system to servers (hosts) and a network. Next, he performed the software steps: initialize the AX100/ AX100SC; and register servers with the AX100/AX100SC.

Guided by the poster, Meserve configured the storage array. He created a hot spare, pools of disk capacity and virtual disks (several physical disks lumped together to represent a virtual disk), then assigned the virtual disks to a server. (If he had more than one server attached to the SAN, he would have assigned it to a virtual disk.) he then configured event notification so that if anything went wrong he would receive an e-mail alert.

The last step was getting the network operating system to recognize the SAN. This took an extra 5 minutes. Because Meserve was not familiar with Windows Server 2003, EMC assisted.

Although Meserve's lack of Windows Server knowledge stopped him cold, most office administrators routinely map network drives and change passwords, and as such are experienced with Windows Server 2003 or Small Business Server.

The AX100 works with Windows, NetWare and Linux host computers. The storage array includes remote management and snapshot back-up software. EMC says it plans to offer RAID 10 support, which adds better performance and fault-tolerance to the system. The AX100 compares to HP's MSA1000, which the company introduced in October.

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