Users want answers to iSCSI

The battle wages between networking protocols iSCSI and Fibre Channel but at this week's Storage World conference, iSCSI was the technology of the day with users demanding answers about its performance. Bottom line: you don't need a Ferrari if you're only driving to the supermarket.

ANAHEIM -- Users at Storage World Conference 2003 have iSCSI on their minds.

The opening sessions of the third annual Storage World show were relatively free of debate but, if there was a subject that sparked interest among end users, it was the emerging iSCSI protocol. Users wanted to know what iSCSI will mean to administrators looking for low-cost storage area network (SAN) solutions -- and the show's experts had plenty of answers.

Dave Deming's response was this: Don't assume iSCSI will be a panacea.

"Anytime you have a new technology, there's some risk that's involved there," said Deming in response to a question during one of the day's opening presentations. Deming is founder, president and CTO of Solution Technology, a Ben Lomond, Calif.-based firm that offers education and training for IT professionals. He conducted a session on storage networking concepts.

iSCSI has been a hot topic for some time now. Many regard it as a way of getting the power of a SAN without the expense of Fibre Channel. Especially since the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in February ratified an iSCSI standard, the buzz around iSCSI has been pronounced.

Several users at the show mentioned that they're interested in finding out more about it. Lou Lelea, owner of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Data Logic, an IT services firm, came to the conference to find out about new solutions for his clients, which mainly include small graphics houses.

"I'm trying to find out what are the most economical and reliable means of having storage backup," he said. "I think that iSCSI may be something, in the future, that we will choose to implement."

Still, some conference attendees said they're concerned about the security risks posed by iSCSI. iSCSI is seen as less secure than Fibre Channel because of its reliance on TCP/IP -- a relatively hackable protocol compared with Fibre Channel.

Similarly, some say the performance of iSCSI simply isn't at the same level as Fibre Channel. Part of the money-saving appeal of iSCSI is that it can be built using low-cost Ethernet network interface cards (NICs), as opposed to host bus adaptors (HBAs). But, at the same time, NICs aren't seen as offering the same performance as HBAs.

Still, Oscar Ernst, a consultant affiliated with Toigo Partners International, says that none of that necessarily matters. Not everyone needs the power and security associated with Fibre Channel SANs, he said. iSCSI solutions may be perfectly suitable for many businesses, especially smaller ones.

"You don't need a Ferrari to go to the supermarket," Ernst said. "Not everybody needs that high performance. Many businesses would be happy to have the lower infrastructure cost and receive a lower performance."

Furthermore, he added, even if iSCSI isn't up to quite the same level as Fibre Channel right now, it's likely that the technology will improve over time. "Today, it's slow," he said. "Tomorrow, maybe it will be faster."

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