iSCSI Adopters: 'We Don't Need Fibre Channel'

Users are flocking to iSCSI, at least if conversations with them are any indication

March 11, 2008

4 Min Read
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iSCSI may be lagging Fibre Channel in terms of installations, but there's at least empirical evidence that it is joining or even replacing Fibre Channel in many shops.

In a recent study conducted by our firm, we found IT managers deploying IP SANs in the dozens for all the reasons commonly cited:

  • iSCSI SANs are easy to configure and install,

  • iSCSI is inexpensive compared to more costly Fibre Channel SANs, and

  • iSCSI doesnt require a specialized skill set to manage.

iSCSI SANs use the same Category 6 cabling, network adapters, and existing switches as Ethernet. For those reasons, lots of small and mid-sized businesses and even departments within enterprise-size businesses are putting in iSCSI. In some cases, they are ripping out aging, unwieldy, difficult-to-manage, or costly Fibre Channel SANs and deploying iSCSI whole hog.

This isn't surprising: iSCSI, which IDC says is going to represent 4.6 percent of storage systems revenue this year and which Gartner says will exceed $3 billion in 2011, has seen almost wild adoption since it became a standard in February 2003.

In short, iSCSI's going strong, even in the face of old pundit warnings that iSCSI has limited performance compared with Fibre Channel and therefore would be inappropriate for mission-critical apps. Check out the following impressions of customers we spoke with regarding iSCSI:IT manager, federal government agency, Huntington, W.V.: “We were looking for a solution that fit in with our Ethernet network and budget,” says this manager, who installed a LeftHand Networks SANiq software SAN on HP DL380 and DL320 servers with Serial ATA drives. He is looking at the advent of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet to bolster his use of iSCSI. "Ten-gigabit Ethernet in the planning process further validates our decision for iSCSI,” he says. “We are comfortable that iSCSI is going to take over from Fibre Channel and it will no longer be considered a low-cost, lower-performing alternative.”

System administrator, financial investment firm, Jupiter, Fla.: “Although we are an SMB, we have a lot of enterprise requirements for storage,” says this administrator, who has moved his in-house-developed customer relationship management (CRM) software to iSCSI. “We have a couple of iSCSI devices already being used on the enterprise level. We have Xiotech and NetApp iSCSI targets we use in our virtualized environments. We've seen the need for iSCSI target storage on our regular network for other types of applications.

“We've seen really good performance with iSCSI, plus ease of use in setting it up and managing it. Snapshots are easy to make, and I can easily assign the targets to different host computers. For example, if I have my database running on an iSCSI target and an SQL server goes dead, I can assign that target to another SQL server in minutes... With 10-Gbit/s host bus adapters and network adapters coming out, we'll be looking at them for the increased performance they offer.”

Rick Bentley, CEO and founder of video surveillance firm Connexed in Palo Alto, Calif.: “Fibre Channel was a whole lot of money, and it wasn't anything special from a performance standpoint compared to the Pivot3 system,” says Bentley, who is using Pivot3’s recently introduced RAIGE iSCSI array. “We don't mind waiting a little bit for writes to take place. The read time is as fast as anything we've seen. Right now there is no reason we would buy Fibre Channel instead of iSCSI."

Systems and network engineer for a university in Lexington, Va.: “iSCSI is simple to understand, to set up,” says this engineer, who uses iSCSI to connect Overland Storage REO disk-based backup appliances and NEO tape libraries to host computers. “You can use standard networking equipment instead of expensive Fibre Channel equipment. You don't have to run Fibre Channel cabling.”None of the users we talked to, including those listed above, mentioned any downsides to iSCSI use. None mentioned any performance penalties. Everyone liked the cost, and many are betting their networks on iSCSI.

In short, it will be interesting to see how these testimonials bear out in the numbers for iSCSI going forward. At the very least, it looks as if Fibre Channel suppliers' fear of iSCSI is well founded.Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Gartner Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IDC

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • NetApp Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Overland Storage Inc. (Nasdaq: OVRL)

  • Pivot3 Inc.

  • Xiotech Corp.

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