Apr 15 2010

SANs Support High Availability

Storage area networks help localities keep their important data flowing without interruption.
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Like overburdened clerks a hundred years ago who stuffed every cubbyhole and file cabinet in their offices with copies of forms and documents, state and local IT managers these days scramble to store electronic data on hard drives and servers that often sprawl across counties and even states.

Many are turning to storage area networks to make that dispersed data readily available and to maximize operational and cost efficiencies. 

"We purchased a SAN as part of a server consolidation project," says James Erickson, IT manager for the City of Fridley, Minn. The city installed an HP StorageWorks MSA 2000 with 12 300-gigabyte SAS drives. The system has dual power supplies and dual controllers.

By combining a new SAN with virtualization, the City of Fridley provided redundancy for its critical data, IT Manager James Erickson says.

Photo Credit: John Nolter

"The city had dozens of servers, most of which had tens of gigabytes of locally attached storage space going to waste. By utilizing a SAN and VMware virtualization, we are using city resources more efficiently," Erickson says.

The network serves an even more critical function -- protecting the city's crucial operational data. "Law enforcement and public-safety functions use the network for communications internally and with our county," Erickson says. "In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, all of our departments require access to critical data to coordinate the city's response, including mapping data, engineering data, financial information and communications with county and state agencies." 

The high-availability aspects of the RAID configurations on the SAN far surpassed the older city servers, Erickson says. Plus, "the SAN units themselves had redundant power supplies and redundant controllers, and we have configured them using redundant switches and redundant network interface cards in the attached servers," he adds.

More Data More Quickly

"SANs create leverage and sharing of data," says Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. That's particularly important for state and local governments, which manage data that can be critical in a life-or-death situation. "For instance, routing for 911 information absolutely can't go down," he says. "Building a SAN can provide immediate accessible storage for that kind of information."

Chicago uses a SAN to store data from hundreds of video cameras positioned throughout the city in police stations, fire departments, city streets and public locations. "We store a large amount of video" generated by those cameras, says Aric Roush, director of information services for the city's 911 call center.

4,300 The number of cameras New York City has installed to monitor its subway system

Although Roush won't say exactly how many cameras store data on the SAN, it adds up to 54 terabytes worth of video footage. That data is accessible more readily than if stored on dispersed hard drives, he points out.

SAN technology can also facilitate implementation of other efficient technologies, Fridley's Erickson says. "So far, we have consolidated 11 physical servers on two VMware servers that are attached to the SAN. Right now, those VMware servers are the only devices attached to the SAN network. It is likely that we will be installing a couple more similar servers in the future," he says.

Roush says Chicago is considering a comparable approach. Based on the success of the SAN that supports the camera network, Jose Santiago, the new executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, has a vision to deploy virtual servers.

The SAN's ability to unify data from different locations opened the door to virtualization, Roush says. "We haven't picked VMware or any virtualization technology yet," he says. "We're taking a look to see how it might work."

Easy Install, Bright Future

Getting a SAN up and running didn't require enormous changes for Fridley. "The only physical change that was required for implementation was the purchase of two switches," says Erickson. "Our switching hardware was almost 10 years old and was not capable of supporting the setup we wanted." The IT staff installed two 24-port HP switches dedicated specifically to link the VMware servers to the SAN hardware.

"We purchased the SAN with capacity to support growth three to five years into the future," Erickson says. "Over that time, we will be consolidating more servers onto the attached VMware servers and may be adding an additional VMware server. We may also attach other servers as need dictates."

Camera-Ready: Chicago SAN Focuses on Surveillance

By some estimates, Chicago has the largest city-owned video surveillance camera network in the country. It has installed thousands of cameras throughout the city, all linked to its 911 center.

Chicago began installing its Operation Virtual Shield network in 2004. Run on the back end by a storage area network, the OVS encompasses more than 1,000 miles of fiber optic, copper and wireless links from cameras back to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

The city's police, fire, aviation, street maintenance, sanitation and transportation departments are part of the network as are public school, housing authority and parks organizations.


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