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Can cheap Fibre Channel HBAs stave off iSCSI?

Fibre Channel (FC) storage area networks (SANs) are everywhere in enterprise data centers, but complexity and price have kept them out of the small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME). Today, adding a server to a SAN costs at least $1,800 in switch port and host bus adapter (HBA) costs alone, says Phil Brotherton, VP of marketing at HBA maker JNI, San Diego, CA.

Unlike switch port pricing, which has dropped down to well under $1,000/port, HBA prices have remained steady, he says, because "it hasn't been in [QLogic] and [Emulex]'s interest to lower prices and show that there's elasticity in the market."

This September, JNI announced its ZStar line of 2Gb/s HBAs for Windows and Linux, which will retail for less than $800. The ZStar HBA line also includes a Windows-based management and configuration tool, preset performance settings and JNI's No Reboot capability. That feature, first announced for JNI's Solaris HBAs, makes it so you don't have to reboot when you change the HBA's configuration.

QLogic, headquartered in Aliso Viejo, CA, also has its eye on the SME market. "IT managers understand the value of networked storage, but it's been too expensive for them," says Frank Berry, vice president of marketing at QLogic. The company, like "all the major OEMs, is at some stage of developing an SME SAN."

But now that iSCSI has finally been ratified, are cheaper, simpler HBAs too little too late? With dual-port Gigabit Ethernet (GigE)

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adapters priced around $200, and Microsoft and Dell on the iSCSI bandwagon, JNI's Brotherton admits that "a low-end SAN based on iSCSI will be very inexpensive."

But for now, GigE's low cost relative to FC is practically moot, says QLogic's Berry, because there's hardly any native iSCSI storage to connect to it. But watch out for when "the EMCs, Hitachis and IBMs of the world" deliver native iSCSI storage, Berry says. At that point, you can expect to see "parity" between Fibre HBAs and iSCSI TOE cards, which today retail for approximately $500.

For more information:

Learn more about iSCSI: Beginner's guide to iSCSI

Advice: Why haven't FC HBAs followed FC switch price declines?

Expert advice: Taming HBAs

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    This was first published in November 2003

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