Article

ISCSI competition heats up

Jo Maitland, Senior Executive Editor
ISCSI has been on the verge of exploding for years, but with native 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) systems about to ship,

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Microsoft's recent acquisition of String Bean Software Inc. and just about every tier one storage provider now supporting iSCSI, it seems the technology is finally getting its day in the sun.

Robert Gray, senior analyst with IDC, says his firm wasn't forecasting 10 GigE iSCSI products until 2007. "But the last couple of months, it looks like everyone has accelerated their product releases." Gray says he wouldn't be surprised if Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) announced 10 GigE iSCSI support by midyear.

"A lot of organizations have to come to Jesus and say I am going to cap Fibre Channel [spending] and begin shifting my strategy [to iSCSI] or be in denial and stay with Fibre Channel [FC]," Gray said.

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Brad O'Neill, senior analyst at the Taneja Group adds that the price difference between FC and iSCSI is no longer a factor. "The endgame is to build an end-to-end fabric on the same protocol, leveraging a true open, scale-out architecture, to get to grid," he said. "There will be ways to create Fibre Channel grids using Brocade and Tapestry," as an example. But he thinks there are easier ways. "Think of an HP blade server system with networking switches running iSCSI back to storage nodes in the same system."

Another sign of iSCSI's momentum came when Microsoft acquired String Bean Software earlier this month. String Bean turns a Windows file server into an iSCSI target. Microsoft has been shipping a free iSCSI initiator since 2003, a major driver for IP SAN adoption. Now the company plans to sell the String Bean software as a feature pack for Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, a NAS device that will also support iSCSI. More news on this is expected at Storage Networking World (SNW) next month.

If you're going to SNW, prepare yourself for the onslaught of 10 GigE iSCSI noise, analysts say. "Every conversation, from supplier to supplier, customer and supplier, and between customers is going to be about 10 Gig iSCSI," IDC's Gray said.

Some vendors have opted to get out ahead of the pack. Nimbus Data Systems Inc. unveiled its 10 GigE system this week. For $30,000 (that's $20,000 less than rival EqualLogic Inc.), Nimbus will sell you 3 terabytes (TB) of capacity, scaling up to 55 TB that supports SAN and NAS, and includes a switch with up to 48 host connections and four GigE ports on the back end. It's not short of software oomph, either, supporting RAID-0, 1, 5, 6, 10 and 50, up to 64 snapshots with roll back functionality and remote replication for disaster recovery.

"It's not a NetApp 900 [Network Appliance Inc.], but it could definitely take on their midrange boxes," O'Neill said. It's missing support for consistency groups, virtualization and other data protection features to make it a true enterprise play, other analysts say.

BlueArc Inc. has also announced 10 GigE support on its Titan system as has Xiranet Communications. The real potential of these systems is not about performance but aggregation, analysts say. "You can connect hundreds of servers into these systems," said Marc Staimer, analyst and president of DragonSlayer Consulting.

There are a number of factors driving iSCSI adoption. Smaller organizations are demanding the benefits of SAN but over Ethernet. The ease of installation and management is appealing as IP LAN administrators can take on this task, and the shift to Intel-based servers is also said to be driving more companies to implement iSCSI. Others factors include the growth of Exchange data and the availability of iSCSI technology from more vendors. Even EMC Corp. supports iSCSI now.

Still, not everyone's having an easy time with the technology, particularly on the Linux side where the drivers are not as stable.

Dustin Martin, computational facility manager at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, deployed Rackable Inc.'s iSCSI target and management software the vendor acquired through an OEM deal with Wasabi Systems Inc., connected to about 15 Linux servers.

"Some of the Linux driver communities have combined and it's created instability," according to Martin. He's switching to an iSCSI stack from Small Business Exchange Inc. after some difficulties with the software. "We'd lose the connection and then it wouldn't reset correctly," he said.

Overall however, iSCSI's performing as advertised, and this is reflected in the growth. Here's a glimpse of the latest purchasing intentions survey data by Storage magazine. Survey results will appear in the June issue.

Survey results

Will you deploy iSCSI? 2006 2005
No 341/69.3% 321/75.9%
Yes, with software initiators 103/20.9% 67/15.8%
Yes, with specialized hardware adaptors 48/9.8 35/8.3%
Total responses
492 423


What applications will you put on your iSCSI SANs? 2006 2005
End-user storage 81/ 53.6% 44/43.1%
E-mail 44/ 29.1% 27/26.5%
Backup 68/ 45% 53/52%
Nonmission-critical business applications 83/ 55% 52/51%
Mission-critical business applications 43/ 28.5% 36/35.3%
Other 7/ 4.6% 3/2.9%
Total responses
151 102


How will you deploy iSCSI? 2006 2005
End-to-end iSCSI SAN on a dedicated Ethernet 57/37.7% 43/42.2%
End-to-end iSCSI over the data LAN 45/29.8% 21/20.6%
iSCSI connected through a local gateway to a FC SAN 31/20.5% 22/21.6%
Connected over the WAN to a Fibre Channel SAN 9/6% 5/4.9%
Hosts send files over Ethernet to a NAS head that sends block over iSCSI to an iSCSI target array 7/4.6% 7/6.9%
Other 2/1.3% 4/3.9%
Total responses
151 102
Related Topics: ISCSI SAN, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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