Running out of ports on its McData directors, nationwide healthcare provider Kindred Healthcare had two options: throw more storage at its 230 terabyte SAN or rearchitect it completely to be more scalable.
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Based in Louisville, Ky., Kindred Healthcare Inc. supports 73 hospitals, 245 nursing centers, 39 pharmacies and 51,000 employees. The main data center stores all the data for Kindred's corporate applications, including enterprise resource planning, digitalized patient records and clinical applications, while also providing centralized backup. Everything is stored on EMC Corp. Symmetrix DMX and Clariion arrays, and the company is planning on adding Centera into the mix for archiving, later this year.
"We were running out of ports at the core and completely out of ports at the edge, we had tape storage hanging off directors and no way to scale, it wasn't a true core/edge philosophy," said Tim Hesson, corporate manager of storage at Kindred Healthcare.
In planning its SAN upgrade, Kindred considered its current SAN switch vendor McData Corp. but also decided to look at Cisco Systems Inc. -- a key partner on the LAN side of the house.
Kindred undertook side-by-side product comparisons, overviews of the software, went to executive briefings and engaged in months of evaluation, according to Hesson. "The McData product wasn't faulty, we just needed operational efficiencies immediately, and we couldn't wait another year for McData's new products." Kindred began its evaluation late 2004, early 2005 and completed its transition to Cisco's MDS 9509 directors in October. McData has since launched its i10K modular director, which competes with Cisco's product, but it was too late for this customer.
Deploying four MDS 9509s allowed Kindred to eliminate two McData directors and 40 edge switches. "The consolidation alone freed up 100 ports that had been used just for interswitch links," said Kris Kostyo, senior systems programmer at Kindred. "And managing the four new directors is much simpler than managing so many switches," he said.
It's also worth noting that Kindred appreciated working directly with Cisco in designing its new SAN. "We worked with McData through EMC, but we wanted to work more closely with our fabric vendor," Hesson said. Although EMC manages support on the Cisco gear, Hesson says he has a Cisco technician nearby for help whenever he needs it.
The transfer of data to the new SAN happened over a 70-day period, without disruption, to Kindred's users, according to Hesson. Kindred used Cisco's Virtual SAN (VSAN) capability, which allowed the team to segment the data by function. "Every host was writing across both [old and new] fabrics until we were certain everything was OK," Hesson said.Kindred Healthcare has plans to use the inter-VSAN routing on the MDS 9509s for LAN-free data backups and to use iSCSI for connecting midrange servers over its IP network. Further out, it's also considering setting up FICON over IP to a disaster recovery site in Philadelphia.
"We got a lot of extra functionality besides just more ports," Hesson said. He's found no fault with Cisco so far but is eager for storage vendors in general to work toward heterogeneity. "I want the flexibility to drop in HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.] or IBM and manage it from a single pane. We're still struggling as customers with being locked in," he said, hinting at the nature of his relationship with EMC.