The year of iSCSI storage--finally! (Editorial)

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The year of iSCSI storage--finally!

it has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery--but in the IT world, acquisition trumps imitation when it comes to flattery. And acquisitions also offer a speedy shortcut to new technology without all the bother and expense of R&D. First, Dell sent ripples through the storage market by scooping up iSCSI vendor EqualLogic, and now Hewlett-Packard (HP) has followed suit by snagging its own iSCSI storage purveyor, LeftHand Networks.

Of course, there's a lot more to this than flattery. It's about Dell's and HP's perception that they had gaping holes in their product portfolios and that iSCSI was just the right fit for those gaps. Dell shelled out a whopping $1.4 billion for EqualLogic while (compared to that lofty figure) HP "stole" LeftHand for a mere $360 million.

In Dell's case, it likely meant a heckuva lot more than an ATM withdrawal, but mighty HP probably only had to rummage through the corporate sofa cushions to scrape up enough change for its iSCSI trophy.

For those of us who write about storage, these moves clearly enhance the credibility of iSCSI storage and offer sound validation of the iSCSI market in general. Two big vendors buying into iSCSI also makes us feel a little less queasy about having already declared it "the year of iSCSI" more times than we care to remember. (In the December 2006 issue of Storage magazine we declared that iSCSI storage would be a hot technology in 2007. We weren't that far off ...)

For Dell and HP, whether they overpaid or underpaid is up for debate. But I have a feeling that a few years down the road both companies will look back on 2008 as the year they hopped on the iSCSI bandwagon just in time.

When iSCSI systems first arrived there was a lot of speculation about how they were going to steamroll NAS and Fibre Channel. After all, iSCSI systems were cheaper, offered lots of capacity and could easily tap into existing networks. The last point was often the strongest argument for iSCSI domination. That level of speculation was, kindly stated, a bit overzealous. In reality, iSCSI has done more creeping into storage environments than steamrolling.

Our Purchasing Intentions surveys bear this out. We haven't seen a wild swing toward iSCSI or a steep climb in the deployment curve. Instead, we've seen incremental acceptance of the technology, with implementations growing at an analogous rate. And we never hear that a key reason for installing iSCSI is that it's IP-based and can use installed network gear. But it's almost as if we were watching iSCSI too closely from survey to survey and year to year, because over a relative short two or three years, it has made significant inroads. In our last survey, about 40% of all firms planned to implement iSCSI in 2008. No dramatic spikes, but 40% is a pretty impressive number.

A lot of pundits have also played the company size card, saying that iSCSI was OK for smaller businesses but the enterprise market would show little interest. Wrong on that count, too. The 40% figure was consistent across all company sizes--and it's big companies that have shown the most growth in deployment plans over the last two years.

Finally, there's the rap that iSCSI storage couldn't handle a company's key apps; let's rethink that, too. We've seen the number of critical apps being deployed on iSCSI also grow.

There's no question that Dell's and HP's deep pockets will help validate the viability of iSCSI storage. And in the next year or so, when 10Gig Ethernet and SAS-II drives become widely available, iSCSI will become an even more attractive alternative. Wow, it looks like 2009 is shaping up as ... the year of iSCSI.

This was first published in November 2008
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