iSCSI: Learn it or be left behind


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iSCSI: Learn it or be left behind

Two tech trends will give iSCSI storage yet another boost, so it may be time to brush up on your IP skills.

At the tail end of the Internet boom, I was working for a fly-by-night, storage-focused telecom company when I first heard about iSCSI. Given the growth of the Internet, a storage technology based on IP seemed a safe bet. Ethernet was becoming the global transport du jour, so iSCSI appeared to be a sure winner--networking leader Cisco Systems had gobbled up early iSCSI pioneer NuSpeed Internet Systems for $450 million in 2000.

But like many technologies from that era, iSCSI didn't live up to its early promise. Back in 2000, the protocol was fairly new and marginally stable products were extremely basic. I remember seeing a NuSpeed/Cisco box at Interop. It had one port for connecting to a server and another for connecting to a storage system. In other words, it was a basic protocol converter and little else. At the time, vendors of 16-port Fibre Channel (FC) switches probably laughed off these devices.

Since those early days of networked storage, there has been continuous progress on the iSCSI protocol and products have steadily improved. The problem with iSCSI now isn't the technology, but the industry hype surrounding it--headlines like "This is the year for iSCSI" or "iSCSI is ready for the enterprise."

Why all the propaganda? Because many users

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still believe iSCSI is a bit of a storage toy. Data center managers and enterprise storage professionals alike tend to dismiss iSCSI as one or more of the following:
  • An industry science project and not an enterprise-ready technology. They don't believe iSCSI has wide penetration or maturity, so it's not likely to enter their shops for years.

  • Storage for the small- to medium-sized business (SMB) market that has gigabytes of storage and low transaction rates, not terabytes of storage and high-end performance.

  • Low-performing storage bogged down by TCP/IP network processing overhead. They believe storage communication is designed for a channel protocol meant for rapid, point-to-point I/O, not global routing. Without dedicated and expensive processing capabilities, iSCSI performance just won't cut it in the enterprise.

This was first published in March 2007

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