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iSCSI’s $360M vote of confidence

All the talk about Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) over the last year has raised questions about the future of iSCSI storage once the convergence of FC and Ethernet takes place.

But Hewlett-Packard’s $360 million acquisition of LeftHand Networks proves that HP agrees with its rival Dell that iSCSI SANs are here to stay. Dell paid $1.4 billion for LeftHand’s iSCSI rival EqualLogic in January, and has ridden a mini-wave of iSCSI adoption: IDC said second-quarter iSCSI revenue grew 93.9 percent over last year.

While the acquisitions bring Dell and HP another storage platform and some product positioning issues, the vendors seem willing to let FC remain the dominant protocol at the high end while iSCSI adoption spikes among SMB and midrange shops due to growing interest in server virtualization  and 10-Gig Ethernet. 

Representatives of HP and Dell agree that history indicates FCoE adoption will be slow.

 “The iSCSI standard was ratified in 2003, and here weare in 2008 just getting traction,” HP StorageWorks CTO Paul Perez says. “I think FCoE will follow a similar adoption curve and adoption will be slow. iSCSI will have a prominent place, especially with 10-Gig Ethernet. FCoE is a performance fabric, while iSCSI is a general purpose fabric.”

Dell vice president of marketing John Joseph, who was with EqualLogic before the acquisition, says iSCSI finally has momentum.

“Migration on and off technologies by storage customers is extremely slow,” he said. “It’s a helluva lot slower than watching paint dry. Typical adoption curves are measured in five-to-seven-year increments. We’re still in the early years of [iSCSI’s] adoption phase.”

Joseph says while he expects many FC SANs to migrate to FCoE, Data Center Ethernet and 10-gig Ethernet will erode the FC base and lead more storage shops to iSCSI.

“Ten-gigE makes a lot of objections [to iSCSI] go away, and Data Center Ethernet makes even more objections go away,” he said.

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