iscsi san 300x292 Build your own iSCSI SAN for Free To really take advantage of the benefits of virtualizing with products like VMWare it helps if you can “virtualize” your storage as well.  A very inexpensive way to do this is with an iSCSI SAN.  From Wikipedia:

In computing, the iSCSI (for “Internet SCSI“) protocol allows clients (called initiators) to send SCSI commands (CDBs) to SCSI storage devices (targets) on remote servers. It is a popular Storage Area Network (SAN) protocol, allowing organizations to consolidate storage into data center storage arrays while providing hosts (such as database and web servers) with the illusion of locally-attached disks.

There are a number of high-end hardware/software solutions you can use, but if you’ve got a small home or office network that you need to add some storage to and you have a spare PC laying around, you should be able to add quite a bit of storage on the cheap.

I won’t go into all the dirty details of how to set this up, but here’s basically what I did to test this with VMWare:

  • First I loaded Vmware ESXi on a spare server with only a very small hard drive and dual GB NICs. Got it up and running and manageable with VMware infrastructure client.
  • Next, I found a spare PC with a Gigabit NICand threw an extra IDE hard drive in it. It now had a 30GB and a 80GB hard drive in it. I downloaded OPENFILER and installed it on the 30GB hard drive. OpenFiler allows you to share hard drive space to your network clients in a variety of different ways including NFS, SMB, and for this test – iSCSI.  No problems. It found all my important hardware – NIC, Drives, etc.,
  • I decided I would carve the 80GB disk into two “volumes” for this test. 30 GB which I shared via iSCSI. and 50GB which I shared as SMB (Windows).
  • There are a few steps to creating the iSCSI target on OPENFILER  which I’ll post some other time. In VMWARE I configured the  iSCSI Software Adapter to point to the OPENFILER address and like magic , the ESX server has 30GB of usable space to build VM’s on. Nice! Windows, Linux, and OSX all have free iSCSI software initiators so I could have just as easily have test with either of them.
  • I created another 50GB EXT3 volume in OPENFILER, turned on SMB/CIFS service, configured the SMB share, and then it showed up on my network as \\ipaddress\share.  Sweet!
  • I went through the usual steps of installing Windows in the new iSCSI attached space and it worked fine. In the real world, you’d use dedicated NIC’s, perhaps Gigabit switches, redundant hard drives, authentication, etc., but for my test I think the performance was adequate, and I got a good feel for how to configure the different pieces of software.

OpenFiler also supports all kinds of nifty features like replication, snapshots, High Availability, etc., Did I mention it’s FREE?  Go Get OPENFILER….