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ISCSI and FC tools, where are you?

What's your best plan of attack if you plan on implementing both FC and iSCSI? This tip offers some management advice.

When it comes to Fibre Channel and iSCSI, emotions often run high. Many in the industry are strong proponents of one protocol and highly critical of the other. But while iSCSI is still a relatively small phenomenon, most everyone seems to agree it is bound to get more popular. And that raises a question. Just what's going to happen when organizations add iSCSI to shops that are already running FC? What are the management challenges and what can be done to make it easier?

Arun Taneja, principal of the Taneja Group, says at the moment, almost all SAN management tools have a purely FC focus, since that's where demand has been. "They haven't necessarily brought iSCSI in under the same umbrella," he says.

"At some point in time, customers will want to be able to view everything on the same pane of glass but we are most definitely not there yet," says Taneja. Looking ahead, Taneja, says he doesn't see products addressing both FC and iSCSI management coming together for at least another 12 months. Part of the problem, he says, is that the companies with SAN management products are coming from the FC side "where the motivation to add iSCSI is tempered by its relatively slow uptake in the market," he says.

What's more, he notes, the universe of companies currently running both FC and iSCSI and possessing sufficient maturity to be thinking in terms of more sophisticated management is very small. "That is the reality, the two worlds are still distinct and separate," he adds.

Rory Bolt, CTO of Avamar, an Irving-Calif.-based maker of backup solutions based on iSCSI says having grown up within the FC industry, he believes the management challenges facing iSCSI will, by comparison, be minimal... "There won't be the same level of pain because the plumbing is in place, there are many certified Ethernet network engineers and the core is stable and has been flying for decades," he says.

But, he admits, there may be some growing pains, particularly with the specialized storage adapters that may be needed to manage the overhead that comes with iSCSI. Even where FC and iSCSI connect, Bolt sees few headaches. In fact, he adds, "when you are bridging two technologies like that you are really putting in place a layer of virtualization so I think there may be products cropping up in that space to add functionality to the transition."

For his part, Geoff Barrall, CTO, executive vice president and co-founder of BlueArc, a San Jose-based maker of storage devices, also sees smooth sailing even in a world where iSCSI and FC share responsibilities. However, he notes, those bridging the iSCSI and FC worlds will need to pay attention to zoning and setting policies. Also, he notes, "there is as yet no consensus as to whether iSCSI should share resources with regular data traffic -- potentially exacerbating latency -- or dwell on a separate network." That could create some problems for management, he admits, "and some real surprises," but nothing likely to be too challenging in the long run, he says.

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