EXCLUSIVE: HP StorageWorks AiO400 Storage System

Editor's Choice
Price
£3,025

The small to medium-size business (SMB) network storage market represents a huge growth area with vendors fighting tooth and nail for a piece of the action. HP has an ever sharpening focus on this sector and its latest StorageWorks All-in-One (AiO) products bring an interesting and unusual new slant to IP SANs.

The family consists of two main products with the AiO400 on review aimed firmly at smaller companies with a keen eye on costs.

The appliance is designed to provide easily deployed and managed shared storage based around the use of iSCSI targets. HP's main priority is to allow storage for application servers to be moved to a central location with MS Exchange and SQL Server installations at the top of its list. For many SMBs the idea of implementing an IP SAN is a daunting prospect but HP has this covered as it provides a completely automated process for seamlessly migrating data from application servers.

There's much more as the AiO400 also function as a standard NAS appliance with support for a wide range of clients. Data protection is also high on the agenda as the appliance provides an automated iSCSI snapshot service whilst the preinstalled StorageWorks Data Protector Express looks after data backup. Tape drives are supported but they will require an additional SCSI card to be installed in the server.

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The AiO400 is a well built 1U rack system which is similar to HP's StorageWorks DL100 G2 NAS appliance. You get a decent 3GHz dual-core Pentium D processor teamed up with 1GB of memory whilst storage is looked after by a quartet of 250GB SATA/150 hard disks.

If you need more storage and a higher performance then check out the AiO600 which uses a ProLiant ML350 G5 server and SAS hard disks (also read the review of this in our sister title, www.pcpro.co.uk). RAID is on the menu as the drives are connected to an Adaptec 2420SA controller which delivers support for RAID-0, -1, -5 and -10.

The appliance runs Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 (WSS2003) to which HP has added its own tools, utilities and configuration wizards. A variety of management choices are available as you can use locally attached mouse, monitor and keyboard or go for a secure remote connection over RDP via the Windows Remote Desktop Connection tool.

The main management console for WSS2003 is an MMC snap-in which also incorporates HP's Storage Server Management snap-in. This means all the standard features of WSS2003 and most of HP's extra goodies can be accessed from the same interface. On first contact a rapid startup wizard takes you swiftly through initial configuration. Next up is a storage hosting wizard which offers options for creating virtual storage for MS Exchange, SQL Server and user defined applications plus general shared storage for NAS operations.

HP has the process of migrating application data covered nicely. It provides wizards specifically for Exchange and SQL servers and third-party applications but first you need to load an AiO agent on the application servers. Along with the agent utility it also loads the standard Microsoft iSCSI initiator plus the volume shadow copy iSCSI provider to facilitate snapshots.

We opted to host a SQL database and decided to migrate the SQL Server 2005 database running on one of our test servers. During installation the agent noted the database and offered to configure itself ready to use it. From the AiO400, we ran the SQL Server hosting wizard which set up the host system iSCSI targets for the DAT and log files. After the process was completed the applications using the database warned they had lost contact with it but after restarting them they reconnected successfully using the new virtual locations.

The wizard for migrating third party applications to the AiO400 creates a virtual volume and automatically exports an iSCSI target to the host server. However, unlike those provided for Exchange and SQL Server, it won't migrate your data across as well. We tested this by moving our Windows Server 2003 FTP services onto the AiO400 and watched the wizard create a virtual volume, export the target information to the server's iSCSI initiator and log on to it to create a new local volume. We then had to copy the FTP directory across to the new volume and reconfigure the FTP service to use the new location.

Schedules for backup and snapshots are also configured during the wizard process. The Data Protector Express does work with the wizards but is actually a separate component which has the ability to run backup and restore tasks and also use virtual tape libraries although these are local to the appliance and not the iSCSI variety. You're not limited to the hosting services for iSCSI targets either as you can use Microsoft's iSCSITarget plug-in to create virtual volumes and only allow specified initiators to access them. General performance was tested using the Iometer utility which reported an average read throughput of 82MB/sec over Gigabit Ethernet. This is comparatively good as we've only seen much higher specified iSCSI appliances delivering more than this.

For general shared storage operations WSS2003 itself offers an impressive range of functions with a file screening tool allowing you to restrict what file types can be copied to the appliance. The storage report features provide a good range of reports on area such as usage and capacity whilst file and volume quotas can be used to limit the amount of storage users can have at their disposal.

It looks like 2007 could be a good year for iSCSI and HP's AiO appliances have certainly got it off to a flying start. WSS2003 R2 provides an excellent range of tools in its own right and but HP builds on these with a unique solution for providing shared storage to application servers. The AiO400 on review is reasonably priced and the hosting wizards really take any pain out of creating virtual storage for Exchange and SQL server applications.

Verdict

Aimed primarily at businesses running Exchange and SQL Server applications, the AiO400 delivers a cost-effective and quite unique iSCSI based network storage solution that makes light work of building an IP SAN and migrating application data to virtual volumes.

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1U rack server chassis 3GHz Pentium D 930 1GB 533MHz SDRAM expandable to 4GB 4 x 250GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 SATA/150 hard disks in hot-swap carriers Adaptec 2420SA SATA RAID with 128MB cache memory 2 x Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet WSS2003 R2 preinstalled Supports up to 200 Exchange mailboxes.

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