Panel: iSCSI Clear for Takeoff

Roundtable of IP storage execs claims iSCSI is already taking off. Haven't we heard this before?

July 23, 2003

4 Min Read
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NEW YORK -- You may have heard before that iSCSI is on the verge of a major breakthrough, but this time industry players insist that its really happening.

A roundtable panel of storage industry executives at a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. conference here today agreed that, while mass adoption of the technology may not be imminent, huge strides have already been made.

“I think the interesting message is that iSCSI is here, and it’s real,” said Peter Hayden, the co-founder, president, and CEO of EqualLogic Inc., a startup that has recently started shipping its iSCSI-based storage system (see EqualLogic Unfurls iSCSI Flag).

Joining Hayden on the panel were representatives from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and J.P. Morgan Chase’s Lab division, which has been testing iSCSI from an end-user perspective (see Cisco Implants IP in SANs). The panel was moderated by IDC analyst Richard Villars.

While industry observers have been predicting for years that the iSCSI protocol, which is designed to send block-level SCSI demands over IP networks, was ready to take off, today’s panelists all said recent developments are finally allowing the emerging technology to gain some ground. Among the more important developments pushing iSCSI forward was the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) official approval of the protocol in February, and the growing number of vendors offering iSCSI-enabled products, including big players like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Cisco.“There’s a pent-up interest,” Villars said, emphasizing that that’s not the same as a pent-up demand. “People have heard about it and buy into the logic of it.” Until recently, he said, the problem was that there were virtually no products available for testing, and companies had no way of knowing what iSCSI looked like in a real-world environment. Villars said he expects a lot more companies to start testing the technology over the next six months.

"iSCSI, I think, is going to take off," agreed Ed Chapman, senior director of product marketing in Cisco’s Storage Technology Group.

That may well be, but at today’s conference, only two of the approximately 65 attendees raised their hand when asked who was already testing iSCSI, or expected to start testing the protocol soon. One of those was Russell Quartararo, the manager of enterprise storage and data protection at pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough Corp. "We just started looking at it," he said. The company wants to connect its stray Intel-based servers to the SAN but doesn’t want to pay the price of Fibre Channel. “We’re definitely serious... We’ve got hundreds of Intel-based servers, and it’s not getting any smaller," he said.

Quartararo is exactly the kind of customer that most of the panelists said they expect to see latching onto the technology first. While iSCSI offers much cheaper and much simpler connections into storage area networks, as well as complete integration with existing IP infrastructures, no one expects the protocol to replace Fibre Channel anytime soon (see iSCSI's Big Bang?).

"No SAN IT manager is going to tear out their network and just replace it," Hayden told Byte and Switch after the panel discussion. “We’re seeing iSCSI used for new connections.” He said that EqualLogic already has dozens of customers for its new iSCSI-based storage system.Instead, the panelists say the companies most likely to jump on the iSCSI bandwagon are those deploying brand-new SANs, or trying to connect servers that until now have had only direct-attached storage to their SAN. In addition, they said, most companies are likely to move to the new protocol gradually, creating a separate iSCSI network for less business-critical applications to begin with, as they test it out. “Further along, I think you’ll see more of an intermixing,” said Cisco's Chapman.

According to Christopher Croteau, market development director for Intel’s Storage Components Division, iSCSI's sweet spot will be SAN-in-a-box offerings. “And that’s irrespective of the organization’s size,” he said. “People often make the mistake of thinking that big companies only have big networks.”

Sweet spots aside, the fact remains that there are still very few storage array vendors offering iSCSI products. “We really need to see a lot more target support before we really see iSCSI take off,” said Enterprise Storage Group Inc. analyst Nancy Marrone, who was not at the conference.

— Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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