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January 2004

Storage upgrades fuel homestead business futures

Customers revitalize disk, storage connections to keep 3000s online

Now that HP is no longer selling the server, the moving parts in an HP 3000 make up the best opportunity to improve the systems. Of the thousands of servers that still form the backbone of businesses, many will access disk drives every day that are nearing an end of life. HP has advised its customers the end of the system’s life is near — but consultants say that end of life claim is an accurate evaluation about the average HP 3000’s storage devices.

The age of those disk drives is one factor that’s prompting a storage connectivity company to target the HP 3000 market — and not to replace the systems, like so many other vendors. Austin-based Crossroads Systems sees the 3000 market as a good target for high-speed Fibre Channel connections, the kind that nearly all HP 3000s don’t have.

This past summer Crossroads completed extensive testing of its SA20 and SA40 attached network switches with the HP 3000s. The products operate on a wide range of systems and have been released for more than a year. Even though HP halted sales of the 3000 this fall, Crossroads believes the 3000 sites still make a good opportunity for its product line.

The summertime testing was conducted through a pair of HP 3000 experts, according to Corporate Systems Engineer Rashaka Boykins at Crossroads. One of those 3000 consultants, Craig Lalley of EchoTech (541.812.1155), said the Crossroads devices are a great match for a customer base that needs to be monitoring its most likely point of failure: disks.

“If they’re still running 4Gb disk drives and they’re not failing, I’m surprised,” Lalley said. “They’re like florescent light bulbs. As soon as one goes out, the rest are going to go.”

Lalley said he’s been serving HP 3000 shops running slow disk technology that’s becoming unreliable as well. Rather than replace older generations of disks with identical parts that haven’t failed yet, companies are turning toward disk arrays.

One benefit of up-to-date storage is better reliability, since every disk fails at some point in its life. At Western US retailer Long’s Drug, the company’s half a terabyte of storage on a VA7100 array is shared by two 3000s. System administrator Donna Garverick said the storage “is completely mirrored, including the system volume — so I can have a drive failure, and the VA will take care of it for me under the covers. I sleep better at night.”

The Crossroads devices, priced starting at $15,599, let companies share the resources of HP VA7100 virtual disk array or HP’s SureStore XP 512 RAID array. These arrays can’t deliver without some kind of Fibre Channel connectivity to the server. The Crossroads devices attach to HP 3000’s SCSI bus, and they allow direct control to each host’s access to storage, right down to the LUN level. The products work with a full array of Unix enterprise systems including HP’s, IBM’s iSeries systems, and Windows 2000 boxes. With the right kind of connection solution, all of those platforms can use a VA or XP system at once.

Vicom Systems began to bring this kind of connectivity to HP 3000 sites starting in 2000, when it unveiled its A5814A router, built by Vicom for HP. But Vicom’s ongoing Chapter 11 status could make Crossroads’ ServerAttach offerings seem more stable, a key factor for the typical HP 3000 shop.

Lalley said the Vicom router “is cost-prohibitive, plus it’s almost impossible to get from HP.” At one site where he installed a virtual array, six Vicom devices run off a Brocade switch.

Lalley found Crossroads SA40 product, which has two Fibre Channel ports coming into the device and an outbound HVD SCSI port linked to the HP 3000’s SCSI bus. Using the SA40, Lalley’s client could even boot its HP 3000 off a volume on the virtual array.

“What’s really crazy about the whole thing is that these disk array devices are so overpowered the HP 3000 couldn’t even make these things sweat,” Lalley said. “You could literally hook up two HP 3000s to a VA7110. It’s almost like giving an unlimited amount of IO to an HP 3000.”

Milliseconds per service time drops in half when a virtual array gets deployed on a 3000, he added. So long as an intelligent device like the Crossroads, since even a large 3000 won’t overtax such an array, it’s not unusual to have several kinds of servers sharing a device. Lalley said this cross-platform capability is letting 3000 customers add storage for the future.

Fibre Channel connectivity is a standard feature on the N-Class and A-Class HP 3000s, but those systems are not widely installed among the customer base. Crossroads sees its product as serving the needs of a community that has more than 50 percent of its sites homesteading.

Although HP’s stepping away from the 3000, customers who are upgrading their storage are now seeing some of the fastest IO ever. The combination of Fibre Channel and easily shared storage is making a difference at Long’s.

“About as fast as the system asks for something, it’s there,” Garverick said. “When we switched over to native Fibre, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ “

Lalley, who handled the Crossroads products as well as the array storage devices, said sites with a high volume of transactions can increase the size of transactions once faster storage is online. The larger the system the greater the potential for improved performance. The speed boost from modern storage on a 3000 can be like adding another system.

“We see a good reduction in the amount of system overhead, and you can tune the 3000 for these XP and VA devices,” he said. By increasing the size in the 3000’s Transaction Manager, you can almost double the amount of transactions that go through the machine.”


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