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iSCSI's Second Act

The storage networking industry's prodigal son, iSCSI, is back. Now that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has officially ratified the iSCSI specification, high hopes for IP SANs have returned faster than a fatted calf on methamphetamines (see iSCSI Gets Go-Ahead and IP SANs: Coming of Age).

But this time around, IP SAN vendors have set the bar several notches lower. Over the past year or two, they have eaten humble pie, gotten the wakeup call, had their wings clipped pretty much all at the same time. No longer do they say iSCSI is a "disruptive technology" that will uproot Fibre Channel and send it caterwauling into the chasm of obsolescence [ed. note: cue the Philip Glass score]. At least, not yet... more on this in a second.

In just one example of this retrenchment, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) earlier this year drastically cut back its iSCSI router division. That group was formed out of NuSpeed Internet Systems, a startup Cisco acquired for $450 million less than three years ago. Talk about a letdown! (See Cisco Lays Off NuSpeed Team and NuSpeed Duo Departs Cisco.)

Why has iSCSI been such a disappointment? The usual suspects range from stagnant IT spending in general to a longer-than-expected standardization process for iSCSI (see iSCSI in Exile).

What it boils down to, though, is that iSCSI over Gigabit Ethernet does not offer any overwhelming advantages over 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel – except cost. Yeah, that's a biggie. Maybe even a huge-ie in the grand scheme of things. But is that enough to be disruptive? Not yet.

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