IBM Slips iSCSI Into SAN

Big Blue picks IP for its SMB push

September 4, 2004

4 Min Read
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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)is dipping its foot into the iSCSI SAN waters with an entry-level system -- making Big Blue the first major Fibre Channel SAN vendor to unveil an iSCSI system aimed at SMBs.

IBM today announced the TotalStorage DS300, an iSCSI SAN based on an unannounced OEM deal with Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) (see Adaptec, IBM Get Cozier). The DS300 server runs under Windows and Linux. Single-controller models will start shipping September 24 with dual-controller models following in December.

IBM, like most other SAN vendors, sees the market for its iSCSI SAN starting small -- literally. Initially, we see iSCSI confined to the Windows and Linux space,” says Rich Lechner, VP of IBM storage systems. “I don’t believe we’ll see iSCSI as a big part of enterprise-class storage.”

Still, something's shifting. According to the latest IDC numbers, iSCSI still represents less than 1 percent of the networked disk storage systems market, but it grew 30 percent in the second quarter of the year.

IBM's chief competition for its new SAN is the AX100 from Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL) and EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). Indeed, IBM positions the DS300 as a cheaper alternative to the AX100 for use by small business customers. A single-controller DS300 with 436 GBytes of external storage costs $4,642 and a dual-controller configuration with 730 GBytes begins at $8,340. Dell lists an AX100 with a single processor and 480 GBytes at $4,999 and a dual processor and 640 GBytes at $9,646.However, IBM uses SCSI drives in the DS300 while the AX100 uses low-cost SATA drives, which makes it cheaper to add capacity to the AX100.

IBM's differentiator is that it's designed as an iSCSI SAN box, which means it supports iSCSI directly, instead of converting it to FC for an existing array. In contrast, EMC’s first iSCSI offering is an interface for its high-end Symmetrix system (see EMC Delivers iSCSI for DMX). Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) also offers iSCSI interfaces for its higher-end FAS unified storage systems (see NetApp Blitzes on iSCSI and NetApp Delivers iSCSI).

This isn’t IBM’s first iSCSI array. Remember the TotalStorage IP Storage 200i? IBM announced it in June 2001 and killed it two years later after it met with unusually strong market indifference. (See IBM Ditches iSCSI Box and IBM Deep-Sixes iSCSI System.) This time, IBM waited until it began seeing market acceptance of iSCSI SAN to jump back in.

And this time, the competition will be close on its heels. EMC plans to offer native iSCSI in its midrange Clariion and entry-level AX100 systems soon, according to Chuck Hollis, VP of storage platforms. “We’ll be there,” Hollis says. “We’re just getting into our power curve on iSCSI.”

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) hasn’t committed to iSCSI, but probably has it on its roadmap. “It’s a great technology for certain applications, and for bridging SAN islands,” HP’s online storage director Kyle Fitze says.The entry of IBM and other major SAN vendors at the low end shows they consider the SMB market ripe for low-cost storage. “Some technologies start at the enterprise level and work down to mass market, and some start at the mass market and work their way up,” Data Mobility Group senior analyst John Webster says of iSCSI. “This [working their way up] is what we’re seeing here.”

There's a groundswell of iSCSI support out there: Adaptec and startups such as LeftHand Networks Inc., EqualLogic Inc., Intransa Inc., and StoneFly Networks Inc. have also been selling iSCSI SANs (see Global Crossing Connects Telkom).

Some of these newbies question the commitment of bigger vendors to the new protocol, even as they embrace the much needed support that products from the likes of EMC, NetApp, and IBM provides.

LeftHand's marketing VP Tom Major, for example, points to the higher margins the major SAN vendors get from Fibre Channel systems, and wonders about their commitment to iSCSI.

“They’re validating what we’ve seen – the market is there,” Major says. “IBM and EMC are jumping in because of that. But are their iSCSI offerings as feature-rich as their Fibre Channel systems? I see them keeping their best features for Fibre Channel.”— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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