iSCSI may be hot but switch makers bank on Fibre Channel

iSCSI is getting plenty of attention as the networking technology of the future, but according to two switch makers, iSCSI has lots of potential in the long term, but for now, they'll stay with Fibre Channel.

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NEW YORK -- Two major players in the storage area network (SAN) market say that while iSCSI has potential in the long term, they'll continue to invest heavily in developing products that support Fibre Channel networking technology.

Interoperability still a problem with switch makers
NEW YORK -- Interoperability, or the lack thereof, plagues storage administrators. And, for many, switch makers are at the heart of the problem. Yet, during a presentation Thursday at an RBC Capital Markets investor conference here, two of the industry's largest suppliers of Fibre Channel switches were vague about their products' compatibility.

Fibre Channel switch fabrics have emerged as the enabling technology for high bandwidth, scalable and reliable storage networks, according to a report from RBC, a Memphis, Tenn.-based analyst firm. Fabric switches are a key component of SANs and are expected to see strong growth over the next several years, the report said.

Brocade Communications is the largest supplier of Fibre Channel fabric switches with 90% of the market, according to Framingham, Mass.-based research group International Data Corp. (IDC). QLogic Corp., is also a major player in the Fibre Channel switch market.

During their presentations to investors, both QLogic and Brocade addressed interoperability but were evasive about details. According to RBC analyst Robert Montague, the lack of interoperability is a problem for users.

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"It's important for the growth of the market to be interoperable," said Montague. "But, it has improved. I agree that many are holding back [on true interoperability] but it gets better everyday. OEMs are pushing for it and eventually it will happen." -- Kate Evans-Correia

Tony Canova, chief financial officer for Brocade Communications and H. K. Desai, president and chief executive officer for QLogic Corp., told a group of financial investors at the RBC Capital Markets conference here Thursday that ready-to-ship products based on iSCSI technology are a long way off and Fibre Channel will outpace other competing technologies - particularly in the short-term.

"ISCSI is receiving a lot more thought on the part of our customers," said Canova. "But, we think there are limitations. Customers say it's still too far out."

Desai said that Fibre Channel SANs are just starting to get deployed and suggested iSCSI supporters may have missed the boat. "It is now too late for iSCSI and InfiniBand to come in," he said.

While their views are not surprising considering that both companies have flagship products based on Fibre Channel, many companies speaking at this conference supported similar views about the short-term future of iSCSI.

The San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade is the largest provider of Fibre Channel switches and related software used to build SANs. The majority of the company's revenues come from its SilkWorm 8- and 16-port switches. The company recently announced a 2 gigabit fabric switch and is expected to roll out another 2 gigabit switch in early 2002.

Based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., QLogic develops high performance I/O solutions for SANs. QLogic's product line includes I/O controllers, host bus adapters and Fibre Channel switches.

IDC estimates the combined market for Fibre Channel switches and HBAs will grow to $4.2 billion in 2003 from $423 million in 2000. IDC predicts the market for Fibre Channel fabric switches will grow to $1.02 billion in 2003 from $101 million in 1999.

But Desai was quick to point out that iSCSI will have its day in the sun. "It's not like one technology is taking away from another. They'll all find a place but in different markets."

Desai added that the cost of Fibre Channel SANs is still cost prohibitive and said his company is working aggressively in getting the prices to come down. "It's still way too expensive," he said. "The only way for [Fibre Channel] SANs to grow is to make them less expensive. If it doesn't, iSCSI will come in."

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