IP Rising

IP Rising iSCSI's just the start of a slow but sure migration to IP as the basis of storage networks

December 18, 2003

4 Min Read
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If a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step, the migration to IP storage is well underway.

Indeed, the recent re-ascendance of iSCSI after a disappointing start a couple of years back, heralds a new turn for the SAN market, one predicted by Byte and Switch nearly a year ago (see iSCSI's Second Act). As more companies opt for iSCSI products as a replacement for direct-attached storage, the market gets closer to shunting Fibre Channel to the legacy bin (see ISCSI: Next Big Thing or H-IP-E?).

Let's start with the basics. Fibre Channel was created to offer block-oriented, high-speed switched links between storage devices. For years, it's gotten that job done.

But IP storage could do it better. Fibre Channel, for instance, tops out at about 2 Gbit/s today; IP-enabled SANs can run at Gigabit Ethernet, but could easily exceed that as 10-Gbit/s Ethernet emerges. Fibre Channel travels at up to 600 km; IP SANs could easily double that today, via encapsulation.

What's more, IP SANs, by making use of the existing telecom and data comm infrastructure, would obviate the need for enterprise customers to maintain separate network technologies and separate sets of resident experts – for storage and other data-center functions. This spells savings in both capital and operational costs.It will take products that activate all of these advantages to achieve the final shove binward for Fibre Channel. The move to 10-Gbit/s Ethernet will be key. And according to the December report from

Byte and Switch Insider, this publication's subscription research service, other protocols are likely to help, including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)'s Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP) and the Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) protocol.

As these technologies gain ascendance, Fibre Channel will enter a downward spiral.

"Not so!" I hear the chorus of FC proponents scream. ISCSI, they say, may be cheaper, run farther, and be easier to manage than Fibre Channel. But Fibre Channel is entrenched. No one wants to rip out what's working. No one wants to forego any discounts or support from leading vendors.

So iSCSI, they say, will be used to complement Fibre Channel, not displace it. It will be added here and there in new installations, or wherever it can be slotted in to work without disrupting the FC SAN.

No one's saying a move to all-IP storage networking will happen overnight. It will take a long time to evolve – but perhaps not as long as some folk think. Unlike the world of telecom, where many years' worth of infrastructure must be normalized and/or replaced as IP-based networks are introduced, Fibre Channel SANs haven't been around for fifty years, and they're not regulated by governments.The momentum behind IP storage is clearly building. The entrance of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) into the storage market is a case in point. It's no coincidence that the world's leading router vendor picked a spot for itself in storage early on, or that CEO John Chambers sees storage as one of a handful of billion-dollar segments on Cisco's agenda (see Storage: A Cisco Billion Dollar Play). Clearly, Cisco sees storage as a key element of corporate networks, one that will synergize with its IP expertise.

Other vendors have caught the drift. EqualLogic, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) have integrated iSCSI into their products and thrown their weight behind IP storage.

There are some holdouts: Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) continues to downplay iSCSI. But Sun may have to get on board or risk being left behind. It failed to crack the top ten companies in Heavy Reading's Fall 2003 Storage Networking Market Perception Study,, despite having high brand recognition (see Sun SANs Slapped).

Bottom line? Fibre Channel created the storage networking market. But IP will eventually rule it. There may be lots of stops, starts, and compromises along the way, but the handwriting is on the wall. For every organization that has a Fibre Channel SAN today, a moment of truth will arrive, when the infrastructure will need to be substantially upgraded or replaced. Odds are, companies will go with the IP flow.

iSCSI isn't an end in itself. It's the start of something bigger, namely, a migration toward increased and eventually universal use of Internet Protocol on networks of all kinds – storage ones included.— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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