Are you taking the iSCSI plunge?

iSCSI has grown from a theoretical standard into a real technology with real storage products. Although once considered by many to be a Fibre Channel killer, iSCSI has gained a substantial foothold without necessarily displacing Fibre Channel. Companies of all sizes are taking the plunge, and the iSCSI juggernaut appears to be unstoppable.

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Unstoppable iSCSI

iSCSI is not only here to stay, it's likely to take a leading role in many storage shops.


We've watched iSCSI grow from a standard into a real technology that has spawned specific products, to the point where there are a large number of vendors providing iSCSI products. More importantly, we're seeing user adoption of iSCSI growing rapidly.

The vast majority of iSCSI customers still have Fibre Channel (FC) in their SANs. However, iSCSI has gained a substantial foothold without necessarily displacing FC, and the iSCSI juggernaut appears to be unstoppable.

There's a great deal of value in networking storage, but the majority of IT shops still use DAS to some extent. FC has failed to reach the ubiquity of other computer networking technologies largely because of its cost and complexity. The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) believes that IP-based networking, with iSCSI as a fundamental technology, has the potential to raise the level of adoption to reach the masses. We're just on the threshold of iSCSI becoming a prevalent and widely adopted technology, but there are signs the technology could surpass FC in the not-so-distant future.

iSCSI has momentum
FC isn't about to go away, but over time it could be relegated to just high-end applications. The continued existence of FICON (and even ESCON) is evidence that technologies remain useful despite the introduction of attractive alternatives. With so much invested in current FC infrastructures and the internal politics of who "owns the network" with iSCSI such a strong factor, the continued use of FC is assured for a long time to come. The technology is making strong inroads with companies of all sizes and among all industries.

ESG performed in-depth research focusing on iSCSI adoption, surveying 511 companies of all sizes and across all industries. Here's a summary of our findings:

  • iSCSI adoption is in the "early mainstream" stage. Of the 511 companies and organizations that were surveyed, 17% have iSCSI deployed in a production environment and another 20% plan to deploy an iSCSI SAN. Early adopters and planned adopters represent 37% of the companies we surveyed. Based on these statistics, ESG believes iSCSI is well within the "early mainstream" of market adoption.


  • There's significant activity across all market segments, but adoption is highest in companies with between 1,000 and 4,999 employees. Twenty-two percent of small enterprise organizations (those defined as having 1,000 to 4,999 employees) surveyed have deployed an iSCSI SAN, followed by 19% of large enterprise (20,000 or more employees) firms, 17% of midmarket (100 to 999 employees) companies, 12% of enterprise (5,000 to 19,999 employees) firms and 11% of small organizations (fewer than 100 employees).


  • Lower costs and ease of management are key reasons why early and planned adopters are embracing iSCSI. Lower capital and operational costs are the primary reasons respondents have implemented--or plan to implement--an iSCSI SAN. The ease-of-use aspects of iSCSI also rank very highly. Respondents feel iSCSI will provide lower operating costs, ease of deployment and management, and will allow them to leverage their current IT skills, which equates to iSCSI being easier to manage over its life cycle vs. Fibre Channel.


  • Early adopters are satisfied or very satisfied with their iSCSI SANs. iSCSI early adopters rated every aspect of their iSCSI SANs positively, including network performance, operational costs, capital costs, app performance, reliability for mission-critical apps, interoperability, ease of installation and ease of management.

  • iSCSI performance is still misunderstood. Many of those who plan to implement iSCSI storage have concerns about performance, but still intend to go forward with iSCSI SANs. Some nonadopters would reconsider deploying an iSCSI SAN if they had documentation proving iSCSI performance was sufficient for their needs.


  • Early adopters validate that performance isn't an issue. Our quantitative research and qualitative interviews consistently confirm that iSCSI performance isn't an issue. Eighty-seven percent of early adopters were very satisfied or satisfied with iSCSI network performance, while 82% were very satisfied or satisfied with iSCSI application performance. Early adopters ranked network performance and application performance as the two highest attributes in overall customer satisfaction, hopefully helping to dispel the concerns of planned adopters and nonadopters.


  • Current iSCSI SANs are used mainly for Tier-1 and Tier-2 application primary storage. Fifty-eight percent of early adopters use iSCSI for their Tier-2 application primary storage, with 50% using iSCSI for their Tier-1 app primary storage, an indication that users are confident in the capabilities of their iSCSI SANs. Planned adopters are also principally interested in using iSCSI for Tier-2 application primary storage, but a significant percentage (36%) are planning to use iSCSI for Tier-1 primary application data. Early adopters and planned adopters currently use or expect to use iSCSI for a number of other apps, including secondary storage, digital archiving and disaster recovery.


  • iSCSI deployments are additive today, but the data indicates that iSCSI will replace FC SANs over the next three years. While the majority of early adopters have implemented iSCSI for separate SAN buildouts, this will change over the next three years. The majority of early iSCSI adopters who also have an FC SAN infrastructure plan on replacing FC SAN deployments over the next three years significantly or to some degree. This is a strong and clear indication that early adopters of iSCSI are gaining confidence in the technology and that it's proven its value over FC.


  • File-based content is the No. 1 application type for current and planned iSCSI SANs. Some 74% of early adopters are using their iSCSI storage for file-based content, followed by database (45%), email (44%) and collaboration (37%) applications. Planned adopters attached the same level of priority to these application types.


  • 10 Gigabit Ethernet will influence iSCSI adoption. Several data points from ESG's research indicate a relationship between the deployment of 10Gb Ethernet and increased adoption of iSCSI. First, ESG discovered a direct relationship between usage of and interest in iSCSI and usage of and interest in 10Gb Ethernet. Second, ESG found that 26% of iSCSI planned adopters say they wouldn't purchase an iSCSI storage system without support for 10Gb Ethernet, and that more than half of these planned adopters would prefer 10Gb Ethernet support. Finally, 25% of iSCSI nonadopters say that deployment of 10Gb Ethernet in their organization would cause them to reconsider iSCSI.


  • Nonadopters find existing networked storage solutions meet their current requirements but would reconsider deploying iSCSI at some point. The main reason why most nonadopters don't currently plan to implement an iSCSI SAN is their belief that their existing SAN and NAS solutions meet their current requirements. These users are also clearly interested in maximizing the investment their organizations have made in existing SAN/NAS resources. This apparent concern over investment protection is reflected in the fact that many of these nonadopters say they would reconsider iSCSI once their current networked storage assets reach end of life or full depreciation.
Just the tip of the iceberg
This ESG research study finds iSCSI to be a viable alternative to FC that users are implementing in increasingly larger numbers. It's being used in a number of ways, including mission-critical applications within companies and organizations of all sizes and across different industries. iSCSI will continue to advance and flourish with accelerating adoption in the years ahead.

This was first published in February 2007

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