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Users bogged down in IP storage hype

The world of IP storage can offer significant benefits when it comes to transferring large data blocks over distances. But, can you recognize IP storage hype when you hear it?

SAN JOSE -- Understanding the difference between emerging IP storage technologies can be tough to grasp even for the most experienced IT pro. Even tougher: Figuring out if those technologies will fit within a user's specific organization. But, according to one industry expert, users need to separate the technologies and separate the hype from the reality.


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Jay Kramer, a training specialist for the Calif.-based Infinity I/O, said there's been some industry confusion about the three various IP storage incarnations of FCIP, iFCP and iSCSI. Kramer referred to these technologies earlier today as an "alphabet soup of different network storage approaches [intended] to address LAN/WAN/Internet interconnect of servers and storage."

Kramer and his Infinity I/O colleague, Alan Land, described the benefits and disadvantages of emerging storage networking technologies such as SAN, NAS, IP storage, InfiniBand and other next generation PCI-bus replacements at the SAN West conference here Monday.

While citing several benefits of IP storage technologies -- including their ability to break distance barriers currently faced by Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs) -- Kramer also warned attendees to separate the current hype surrounding IP storage from the reality of where the technologies are today and their future promise.

According to Kramer, the hype typically centers around four common IP storage messages perceptionshe hears:
  • IP storage uses your existing IP infrastructure. What's the reality? "Congestion on IP networks drove the development of SANs in the first place," he said. "Even if it's an IP storage environment, it's going to require upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet and, potentially, separate sets of pipes to support the storage traffic versus the rest of the infrastructure of network traffic." Kramer acknowledged that bandwidth is growing faster than demand and indicated there could be a common technology-based set of pipes developed in future that might indeed support both LAN and SAN traffic.
  • IP storage uses existing IP management software. "The real challenge of SAN management is managing data, not the network," Kramer said. "Moving data means RAID, mirroring, striping, backup and recovery, LUN masking and mapping, and all things storage professionals have done," Kramer said. "So, having network management tools isn't exactly what you need to manage data traffic."
  • IP storage uses existing IP skill sets. Kramer said the message they often hear in this case is that all network administrators are already in place in a customer environment. Now, they just need to manage storage assets. Not true. "The reality is network administrators are still going to need to be trained or retrained to manage storage. Putting storage on IP networks doesn't mean managing client workstations and messaging traffic is the same as managing block-level storage traffic." According to Kramer, storage administration -- no matter who ultimately does the job -- will need to focus on "managing data instead of managing devices."
  • IP storage costs less than Fibre Channel. When you add in the cost of upgrading to a Gigabit Ethernet environment or implementing separate IP SANs, Kramer said the cost of IP storage could actually offset the potential cost savings. Add in TCP offload engines [TOE], and they may actually drive up the prices. "The hope is that IP storage is likely to be less expensive in the long run, but maybe not today."

Infinity I/O's Alan Land also noted that such emerging technologies as FCIP, iFCP iSCSI, and even InfiniBand, are still relatively new entrants on the traditional technology roadmap espoused by Gartner/Dataquest, Infinity I/O and other IT industry trackers.

The roadmap charts an emerging technology from its first strong blip on the market radar screen (coined the "peak of inflated expectations") to its eventual widespread market acceptance (the "slope of enlightenment" and final "plateau of productivity") or its ultimate end in obscurity (the "trough of disillusionment" and "failure to establish compelling end-user value").

Land placed current IP storage technologies and InfiniBand somewhere creeping toward the initial "peak of inflated expectations." However, some attendees begged to differ. Ben Lomond, Calif.-based Solution Technology founder, president and CTO David Deming thought iSCSI might be better placed farther along the roadmap in the "slope of enlightenment."

Wherever you place such technologies on the development roadmap, one thing is clear. IP storage is an up-and-comer that continues to bear watching.

According to Kramer, the first products based on FCIP, iFCP and iSCSI have already been shipped and standards for all three IP storage transports should be completed by later in 2002. The storage industry can expect to see further incarnations of all three IP transports through 2005.

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