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In my last article, I talked
a little about the decision-making process that I and my team went through
before settling on an iSCSI-based storage
area network vs. the tried-and-true fibre channel approach
. In this
article, I’ll go over the vendor selection process, outline the areas we looked
at to come up with our final selection, and tell you why we didn’t select
certain other vendors. In the next article, I’ll outline the selection process
we went through once the choice was narrowed to two finalists.

Surveying the field

With vendors of all shapes
and sizes out there, the first reasonable step in the selection process was to
narrow down the list to something manageable. After all, there are only so many
hours in a day, and poring over literature from dozens of vendors just wasn’t
in the cards. So first, we started the winnowing process.

Everyone has probably heard
the names EMC, IBM, NetApp, and HP—these
companies are considered among the big names in storage. I looked over their
product lines and decided fairly early on that their wares wouldn’t meet my
needs, particularly when it came to price. Further, some of these vendors—EMC,
in particular—have only very recently embraced iSCSI as a part of their
portfolio, while others—NetApp, for example—have been offering the best of both
worlds—fibre channel and iSCSI in the same box—for a while now.

Even though these companies
are quite strong and have great products, I decided that I didn’t want to move
forward with any of them. For a variety of reasons, all of them deeply support
fibre channel, and many have only recently tacked iSCSI onto their hardware. Further,
I knew from the outset that fibre channel would not be a consideration in my
organization either now or in the near future, so even NetApp’s multi-protocol
capable appliance didn’t immediately appeal to me for its flexibility.

Finally, the solutions that
were in my price range from these companies were somewhat limited. Take EMC’s
AX100, for example (AX100i for the iSCSI system, which was not available when I
selected a product). With a maximum raw capacity of only 3 TB, this system
would not be enough to meet our data storage needs without requiring a
significant upgrade in the next couple of years. NetApp sells the FAS270c,
which is a cluster-capable unit supporting up to 8 TB per device, but I didn’t
like the idea of needing to buy two complete units to achieve this redundancy.
Moving up to the more expandable EMC CX300 (now CX300i for the iSCSI system) or
to a comparable array from a different vendor—put the prospect out of reach of
my budget, which is a reality that I had to live with.

The contenders

At the same time, I started
hearing from a company called LeftHand
regarding their NSM series of storage hardware and, during my
research into this line, I ran across arrays from a company called EqualLogic. Both vendors are considered
new players in the storage market and both sell iSCSI-only gear. Both also
received rave reviews in both the press and in telephone interviews I conducted
with current customers. The information I was reading about these two companies
was also a factor in my decision to abandon the “big players” for one
of these smaller, newer competitors.

Ultimately, my short list of
solutions came down to these two vendors. My next article will reveal our final
selection along with all of the reasons we chose that particular vendor over all
the others.