iSCSI: Learn it or be left behind


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The real deal
The technology industry has a long memory. Storage based on iSCSI is far more mature and a lot more enterprise ready than many users believe. The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) recently published "iSCSI enters the mainstream," a research report that looks at market perceptions, iSCSI implementation and future plans in detail. The report is based on the responses of 511 qualified storage professionals (see "

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Unstoppable iSCSI," Storage, February 2007).

Based on the survey results, the report concludes that iSCSI is much more mature and enterprise ready than expected. Seventeen percent of respondent organizations have deployed iSCSI in production environments, while another 20% plan to do so. Adoption is highest in the SMB sector, but iSCSI is being implemented across all company sizes, industries and applications.

Yet iSCSI performance is still misunderstood. Those users planning implementations or avoiding iSCSI are still concerned about the technology or believe iSCSI can't meet their performance needs. ESG believes these people may be basing their opinions on industry folklore rather than on the experiences of actual iSCSI users. According to ESG research, nearly nine out of every 10 iSCSI users were either satisfied or very satisfied with iSCSI network performance, while 82% were satisfied or very satisfied with iSCSI application performance.

In addition, ESG found iSCSI springing up as the solution of choice for new server implementations or SAN build-outs. The data indicates that iSCSI users will see the technology replacing FC SANs over the next three years.

Tech trends provide a boost
Clearly, iSCSI is further along than many storage professionals believe, and ESG data suggests an even brighter future. I think iSCSI will become even more pervasive than the numbers indicate due to the following:

  • Next-generation networking will pave the way for iSCSI. On the other side of IT, networking professionals are planning major rip-and-replace upgrades over the next few years. For example, the U.S. federal government will overhaul its entire network and move to Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) by June 2008. In theory, once the government goes to IPv6, everyone who connects to the government will follow. As this process unfolds, many of today's 1Gb Ethernet pipes will become 10Gb Ethernet pipes, thus seeding 10Gb technology into numerous large organizations. This will increase the overall 10Gb port count and lower the cost of the technology for everyone. The emergence of 10Gb networking will bolster iSCSI implementation along the way. ESG found that many organizations think of 10Gb Ethernet as a prerequisite for iSCSI. Once 10Gb Ethernet is firmly in place, look for the iSCSI floodgates to open.

  • Longhorn is just around the corner. This year, Microsoft will release its latest version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn, which should help iSCSI move up-market. The reason for this is simple: Windows works great with iSCSI and Longhorn takes Windows into higher end Unix apps and engineering-intensive 64-bit processing. This won't be a subtle process, so expect Microsoft to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to trumpet Longhorn for the enterprise. And watch iSCSI go along for the ride as the next version of Windows--and Linux alternatives--moves deeper into the data center.
As these technology trends play out over the next few years, networking and server providers will join the chorus of iSCSI supporters. Switch vendors like Cisco, Extreme Networks, Force10 Networks and Foundry Networks will ask their networking customers to broker introductions with their storage counterparts. Intel server vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM will also have more iSCSI knowledge and products to sell. Storage vendors like EMC and Network Appliance are anticipating these trends and have no qualms about pushing one switched-network transport over another.

This was first published in March 2007

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