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IBM pull out rumor tarnishes iSCSI outlook

IBM's reported pull-out of the iSCSI hardware market has cast a shadow on iSCSI technology and could, according to one analyst, slow the adoption of IP SANs to a snail's pace.

IBM sent a jolt through the iSCSI market last week by stopping sales of its TotalStorage IP Storage 200i product. While on its face the news appears to have marred the adoption of iSCSI, some experts believe IBM was doing what it always has done in the past -- testing the technology waters.

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International Data Corp.'s (IDC) Eric Sheppard said IBM has not abandoned the iSCSI protocol, although it has stopped selling the 200i. However, the success of the product or lack thereof, depends on what IBM was trying to achieve.

"It could be that they simply wanted to gauge end-user's willingness to "kick the tires" of a new protocol or to gain insight from real-life deployments," said Sheppard.

IDC still believes iSCSI will gain acceptance over the long run, but also notes that Fibre Channel will be the dominant SAN interconnect for some time to come.

As an emerging standard for transmitting SCSI storage protocols over IP, iSCSI has been surrounded by huge media and industry buzz, but the noise outweighs actual customer deployments.

The IBM rumor is troubling for the iSCSI industry because, other than IBM's 200i product, there is no support for an iSCSI target device, said Jamie Gruener, senior analyst for the Boston-based Yankee Group Inc.

Gruener said the adoption of iSCSI is being muddled by a number of factors.

He claimed that a lack of customer deployments of the technology coupled with an overestimation of iSCSI's momentum in the media have left users in a wake of confusion.

"The technology is a no-brainer, but there's a lot more that has to be done. We have not seen any substantiation of customer interest to say that the market is here today," he said.

Cisco and Intel Corp., could push the technology through if they took the initiative to work with startups and get iSCSI to the masses, but Gruener said customer hesitation abounds.

"The early adopters of Fibre Channel SANs were tech savvy," said Gruener. "The target customers for iSCSI [tend to be] more conservative and less willing to take a chance on new technology."

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior storage analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group Inc., Milford, Mass., said the emerging iSCSI market should not be judged by what IBM does or does not do, but he is disappointed with the lack of iSCSI adoption in the marketplace.

"The real deal is there has been no 800 lb. gorilla pushing the technology," he said.

Major players like Cisco Systems Inc., have solid iSCSI hardware, but are not emphasizing it to customers, Duplessie said.

"The premise is still entirely logical, even more so in [this] economy where every dollar matters, but I don't see the market exploding until the likes of EMC or HDS or another giant decides that iSCSI is the great enabler to true storage consolidation." He said. "Somebody will figure it out sooner or later."

Gadzoox Networks Inc., which built its business around Fibre Channel said iSCSI is not the best option for managing storage off of the local area network. Gadzoox went as far as buying a startup called SmartSAN in order to develop long-distance SAN products.

"IP is good for remote management of SAN islands globally," said Gadzoox's CEO Steve Dalton. "We had [IP product] roadmaps on the table, but we pulled them off."

IBM declined to comment on the news other than to say that iSCSI might be integrated into its other storage systems in the future.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer

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