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Carlson Blends IP and Fibre Channel in Data Center SAN

Travel company cites savings from hardware, plans global expansion

July 8, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Carlson Companies Inc., a $6.8 billion conglomerate that operates hotels, restaurants and travel agencies, this month is due to deploy what analysts said may be the largest storage-area network (SAN) that translates data between Fibre Channel and IP technologies.
The SAN, which could be completed as early as this week, has an initial storage capacity of 10TB. Minneapolis-based Carlson is using Internet Protocol for the core network within its data center and is relying on storage switches made by Nishan Systems Inc. to convert data from Fibre Channel to IP and back again.
The installation combines San Jose-based Nishan's IPS 4300 switches with a Hewlett-Packard XP512 disk array and a pair of redundant Cisco 6509 routers. Data is sent from Unix servers to Nishan's switches and then routed across the IP network to more Nishan devices, which are connected to the HP array.
The hardware wasn't cheap. Carlson CIO Steve Brown said the 12 IP switches, two routers and 10TB array cost a total of about $2 million. The company paid $40,000 each for Nishan's switches, $80,000 apiece for the Cisco routers and $1.2 million for the XP512, he said.
But Carlson saved money by choosing IP instead of Fibre Channel as the central network protocol, because it was able to take advantage of its existing IT infrastructure and internal networking expertise, Brown said. Company officials expect those savings to grow as the SAN is fanned out to Carlson's global operations, he added.
"This all started out as a way of reducing costs or optimizing our infrastructure cost," Brown said. "As you scale across the globe, which is our intent, the cost-reduction opportunities here are large." However, Brown said he hasn't calculated the project's potential return on investment.
A Storage Harbinger
Eric Sheppard, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said Carlson's project is a harbinger of a wider move to merge Fibre Channel SANs and emerging IP storage networks. But the new SAN is less a direct challenge to Fibre Channel technology than it is an early example of how IP can be used in corporate storage applications, he said.
"This is far more of an integration of IP into the SAN, and that's significant," Sheppard said. "It didn't occur to me that that was the sweet spot for IP - the high end. This is the data center. And that's striking."
Another notable aspect of the project is that Carlson overlaid a SAN template called the Shared Storage Model while designing its network. Brown said the company saved on development costs by using the template, which was



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