2003 is the year that storage networking runs out of excuses. There are no fads or buzz words coming to make storage interesting because the market is tired of hearing about things such as serverless backup and network-based virtualization that have mostly not delivered on their promises.
Two key events for 2003
There will be two key events in 2003, and both of them will happen early in the year. And they are, the availability of an iSCSI driver from Microsoft for its .NET product and the general release of Cisco's MDS Fibre Channel product lines.
These are important because both industry giants have been mostly non-existent in the network storage space. While Cisco has been selling its storage routers for over a year, these were hardly mainstream products that one could build a SAN strategy around. The MDS products, on the other hand, will be sold and purchased as strategic products that companies will build a strategy around. The lack of modular scalability in Brocade's product line means that companies with SANs will be looking at forklift upgrades for their existing 1Gb FC switches. The Cisco product will win its share of the business with a superset of features.
One of the new key features is something called VSANs or virtual SANs. Not to be confused with storage virtualization, VSANs are a more complete solution to traffic segregation than zoning is. VSANs incorporate reliability, administration and traffic management features that zoning cannot. As people start figuring out what these things mean for SAN management, it will become clear that VSANs are a major improvement to the SAN universe.
Microsoft plans to deliver iSCSI drivers for Windows Server 2003 as an update following the initial release of the product. Microsoft's blessing of iSCSI through its own system software opens the door for Windows data centers to get the flexibility, scalability and distance benefits of SANs -- without bearing the cost premiums associated with Fibre Channel.
The missing link in the iSCSI equation appears to be vendors with appropriately priced storage solutions. This will apply a whole new sort of pressure on established storage companies who will need to recalibrate their iSCSI pricing to fit the expectations that come with Windows environments. This means lower margins for companies such as Network Appliance and EMC that will have some difficulty justifying the cost differences between their existing products and their new iSCSI products. New startups such as Intransa and Stonefly will enter the market with new product architectures and cost models that will allow them to get and maintain traction in the market.
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This was first published in January 2003