Putting together a SAN typically requires technical expertise that's beyond the scope of most small to midsized businesses (SMBs). First you need to collect a diverse set of components from different vendors, making sure that the components are compatible. Then you need to retain a consultant or system integrator who has SAN expertise to assemble the pieces and configure the SAN. To bring SAN technology within the grasp of SMBs, HP and QLogic have released the HP StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000 (MSA1000) Small Business SAN Kit—essentially a SAN in a box.

Marketing materials show an IT administrator who has no SAN experience setting up the MSA1000 SAN Kit in just 40 minutes. Having no SAN experience myself, I knew I was the perfect candidate to review this offering. The product arrived in a box about the size of a small refrigerator, leading me to hope that I only needed to plug it in. But I knew it couldn't be that simple, and it wasn't.

I rolled up my sleeves, checked the time, and got to work unpacking. Removing the outer packaging revealed a host of boxes. The SAN Kit included the HP StorageWorks MSA1000 storage unit, two PCI Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs), three Fibre Channel cables, an HP Fibre Channel switch, SAN management software, and all required mounting hardware. The MSA1000 has dual power supplies and one built-in Fibre Channel attachment and can accommodate 14 drives. For high availability, you can add a second Fibre Channel attachment. To ensure that the solution contains the amount of storage you need, you purchase the hard disks for the MSA1000 unit separately. For review purposes, I received four 72.8GB Ultra320 SCSI drives.

Following the instructions on the quick-setup poster, I spent a little more than 80 minutes setting up the hardware. Although longer than my 40-minute goal, that time wasn't bad considering that I'd never before used Fibre Channel equipment and that it included unpacking everything, mounting the MSA1000 and the switch in my rack, installing the drives, and installing the HBAs in the HP ProLiant ML350 server that I would use to manage the SAN. (I think the IT guy in the marketing materials was either an unpacking wizard or had some help.) It took 20 minutes more to run though the HP Small Business SAN Wizard, which loaded the HBA drivers and the management software and rebooted the system. Two bad Fibre Channel cables prevented me from promptly completing the installation, but after I obtained replacements, I quickly had the SAN operational.

To configure and manage the SAN, you can use either QLogic's SANsurfer Express or the HP Array Configuration Utility (ACU). SANsurfer Express lets you manage the SAN, the switch, and the HBAs, and I found it to be more user friendly and better suited to a beginning SAN administrator. The software presents a graphical view of the SAN and shows the servers and MSA storage, as you can see in Figure 1. It lets you create partitions and LUs, expand LUs, and assign them to servers. Customers who are familiar with configuring HP ProLiant storage might prefer the more detailed ACU, which manages storage only.

After completing the configuration, I instantly had more than 290GB of new storage. The SAN's access speed was incredibly fast—decidedly faster than DAS. As a new Fibre Channel user, I found the Fibre Channel equipment a bit more fragile than the usual IP connections, but overall no more difficult to use.

At $9999 (excluding the hard disks), the MSA1000 Small Business SAN Kit is competitively priced and really does deliver on its promise to bring SAN technology and management within the reach of SMBs. I recommend this product highly for SMBs that need to add storage.



HP StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000 Small Business SAN Kit
Contact: HP * 800-888-0262
Web: http://www.hp.com
Price: $9999
Summary
Pros: Everything you need for a SAN in one box; easy setup; great performance
Cons: Fibre Channel equipment was a bit fragile
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Recommendation: Highly recommended for SMBs that need to add storage.