ProWare delivers a high capacity IP SAN appliance at a remarkably low price, but is there a catch?
As IP SANs greatly increase in popularity for network storage we've seen prices for iSCSI arrays gradually falling, making many of them an affordable option for SMBs. ProWare aims to move the bar even further for value with its latest family of IP SAN arrays as the mysteriously named SB-3164E-G1A3 delivers a healthy 8TB of raw storage for less than five grand. Even better is the fact that the supplier, Ultimate Storage, advised us it offers a version of this array populated with 1TB drives, providing 16TB of storage, for only 5,454. This seems too good to be true, so is there a catch?
Build quality certainly isn't a casualty as this 3U array is extremely well constructed. The front panel has room for sixteen SATA hard disks each mounted in solid hot-swap carriers with a natty wire mesh grill on the release lever to aid air flow. An LCD display and operator key pad is also provided and the entire panel for this flips down to enable drives to be removed or inserted.
At the rear you have a pair of 640W hot-plug supplies and two fan trays so power and cooling redundancy are covered. The RAID controller offers a dedicated Fast Ethernet port for web management plus a pair of Gigabit data ports and there are also serial ports for monitoring a UPS and accessing the array over SSH. You're spoilt for array choices as along with stripes, mirrors and RAID-5 you have dual-redundant RAID-6 on the menu and for the latter two you can also have them striped in RAID-50 and -60 configurations.
There's even N-way mirroring where instead of two drives, the array contains multiple mirrors allowing for N-1 failover. Drives can also be designated as global or dedicated hot-spares. The controller in the review system came equipped with 512MB of DDR2 cache memory and the single DIMM slot on its motherboard accepts modules up to 2GB.
The first drawback is the array doesn't currently support dual controllers. There is a second bay for one at the rear and we were advised that ProWare is aiming to launch a dual controller version next year. Expansion is not possible either as the controller does not offer any external ports for daisy-chaining extra arrays to the main unit. Other features ProWare doesn't currently offer are virtual disk mirroring and remote replication. A QCopy utility is available for replication but this is not supported by the controller in the review system and nor will it be.
General installation is simple enough although ProWare's modus operandi for creating iSCSI virtual volumes is slightly unusual. Your first job is to create volume groups (VGs) where you pick physical drives and select a RAID array type. Next, you create user data volumes (UDVs), which are your iSCSI virtual drives and each VG can contain multiple UDVs of varying capacities.