David Szpunar: Lead Engineer, PC Help Services

David's Church Information Technology

September 22nd, 2008 at 10:03 pm Print This Post Print This Post

New Server, SAN, and Backup Plans!

Although Lakeview is currently experiencing tight finances (who isn’t in this economy?), we have had some server infrastructure issues that we can’t ignore any longer. Thus, I am happy to mention that I’ve gotten final approval to purchase these items, or something very close to them:

  • A Dell PowerVault MD3000i iSCSI SAN (with 10-15 near-line SAS 1TB drives and dual controllers)
  • At least one new server (likely a Dell PowerEdge R805 with dual quad-core AMD processors)
  • Microsoft Server Datacenter licensing for the same
  • An iSCSI Ethernet switch
  • Battery backups for server and SAN
  • Backup software and some drives for backup
  • A rack for the server room (maybe. If I can find a free or dirt cheap used one, locally)

Unfortunately, my budget for all of this as assigned is going to be a bit of a tight fit to squeeze the last few bits in and I’m still trying to figure out the best and most cost-effective way to do this. I’m also struggling a bit with which backup software to use. The server we were using to mirror our data is now dead, and although we have a RAID 5 array that is nowhere near the level of protection we need to have, but I am starting from scratch as far as which data backup software to buy. I have no tapes nor the budget for a tape drive, but I do have some PATA hard drive arrays that are only half-full that are SCSI-attached and will probably work in tandem with an existing server to become my disk-based backup server. Figuring out how to do offsite backup, within the same budget, is high on my todo list :-)

My budget for all this is actually less than the retail price of just the server and SAN. Fortunately, I rarely pay retail and this is certainly no exception! The plan, if isn’t obvious, is to virtualize. I’ve already been doing virtualization for a while to some extent. I used Microsoft Virtual Server a long time ago but switched to VMware Server product when it was released for free. I’m currently running four virtual Windows machines and a virtual Linux machine for our helpdesk software. Recently, since VMware’s ESXi became available for free, I’ve started running it on our newest server, a 3-year-old Dell PowerEdge 1800 Xeon 3.0GHz system with 6GB RAM. It runs very well and I love the management interface, even just using the VMware Virtual Infrastructure Client it comes with (since we aren’t paying for Virtual Infrastructure 3, or VI3 as it’s known!).

The goal of the new system will be to move virtual machines and file shares onto the MD3000i SAN. The Dell R805 server will be the primary virtual machine host, and although my plan was to use VMware ESXi, a good friend and mentor has recommended I examine Microsoft’s new Hyper-V virtualization platform as a strong contender, especially since Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2008 is coming and Live Motion will be available in the future, something that VMware does (simliarly, at least) with VMotion only for a high licensing cost. I’m open to either virtualization solution at this point, but here’s my main problem: Hyper-V will only run on procesors that support the new virtualization extensions. Right now, that’s zero of our servers. The R805 will support them of course, but the PowerEdge 1800, our only server with even a 64-bit processor, is too old to have the extensions and thus cannot run Hyper-V or 64-bit guests (although it runs ESXi just fine right now). My plan was to use the PE1800 as a backup server to run critical systems as needed if the R805 was ever down. With Hyper-V, this is no longer an option (and really, with the PE1800 and ESXi I still can’t run any 64-bit guests, so Exchange 2007 is out), and my concern is being left without a secondary server should the primary fail.

So, I’m left trying to fit a second server of some sort, new enough to have virtualization extensions but cheap enough to fit into my already packed budget. Suggestions, and of course donations, are welcome :-) I have been keeping an eye on the Dell Outlet but that is mostly pointless until I have the money to spend same-day when something shows up in stock.

At the moment I’m likely going to get a couple of refurbished UPSs from RefurbUPS for battery backup. However, I will be pursuing a contact or two who may be able to help with this as well.

The final area I’m still investigating still is data backups. There are a plethora of disk-to-disk backup options, and obviously I’m limited by price. I’m not going to use Symantec’s BackupExec for various reasons. The options I am considering so far consist of the following:

CommVault is the solution that Jason Powell and his team use at Granger Community Church. They like it and it allows for Exchange restore down to the individual message if necessary without restoring the entire data store. The other options I have done varying levels of research on; enough to know they are still a contender on both price and features but not enough to provide an in-depth comparison summary. I am also still working how exactly how many virtual machines I will be running, and how many need to run a backup agent (some things can just be backed up with scripted backups to a file server where the data can be backed up along with everything else on that server, so I don’t necessarily have to have a backup agent for every VM).

The funding will be available most likely in the next couple of weeks or so to go ahead and make these purchases. If I can hold off on some of the backup questions, I may try to wait until after the upcoming Seacoast Fall Church IT Roundtable so I have more time to bounce ideas off of the smart guys there!

This is an overview and of course is not the only research, thinking, and questioning I’ve done about this solution! So feel free to comment and suggest away; I’m just saying there’s a possibility I’ve considered your suggestion and if so, I’ll note it. More often than not though, my thinking is challenged here in the comments, so please delight me with your insights, they are much appreciated :-)