An eye on SCSI

After more than four years in development, it looks like iSCSI is shaping up to be an overnight success. The newly minted standard--which enables companies to run block-based data over standard IP networks--promises to dramatically lower the cost of entry for SAN deployments. By eliminating the need for pricey Fibre Channel (FC) gear and its related management costs, iSCSI-based SANs offer an attractive way to centralize storage without busting tight IT budgets.

The low cost of iSCSI SANs, combined with the ability to build scalable arrays of disks behind them, could tempt many medium-sized companies to test the SAN waters, says Jim Damoulakis of GlassHouse Technologies Inc., Framingham, MA. "The people who have been late to adopt or have not adopted SAN technology to any degree would be where iSCSI will make its inroads."

But while iSCSI SANs ship their data over familiar IP networks, they lack the file sharing facilities of NAS solutions. That's why Ron Lovell, of Greenwich Technology Partners, New York, NY, says that iSCSI SANs may make their biggest impact as a means to enable data access and backup over long distances. Freed of the 10-kilometer range imposed by FC connections, iSCSI SANs can support a true disaster-recovery environment, where remote backup and recovery can be performed over distances of hundreds of miles.

Jamie Gruener, senior analyst at the Yankee Group, expects iSCSI activity to pick up in the second half of 2003. But he believes

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more vendors must actively support the protocol with viable products before companies can contemplate a transition to IP-based SANs.

"iSCSI now lacks large vendor commitment to enable complete systems," Gruener says. "You can buy NetApp and Cisco, and Windows [Server] 2003 drivers, but you need more targets--storage arrays and systems that embrace iSCSI."

Greenwich Technology Partners' Lovell agrees, and says people that are enthusiastic about iSCSI SANs should be prepared for a wait. "If you look at the adoption for Fibre Channel back in 1996 to 1997, it really wasn't until five years later that people were adopting it for mission-critical systems."

This was first published in September 2003

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