SAN Ceasefire!

SAN Ceasefire! This month's Byte and Switch Insider examines iSCSI's place in the SAN

June 10, 2005

4 Min Read
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It's time to get real about iSCSI and Fibre Channel.

IP SANs have made enough progress in the past year that we can expect them to stick around, and Fibre Channel certainly isn't going away. [Ed. note: We have at least nine more years -- see Fibre Channel Doomed, Says Metcalfe.] So instead of treating them as natural enemies, the focus should be on how they fit together.

Recent market figures show both on the rise. According to IDC, iSCSI SAN revenue in the first quarter of 2005 grew nearly 22 percent from the previous year -- outpacing the overall SAN market growth of 16.7 percent (see IDC: Storage Spending Up). Yet iSCSI made up a mere 2.2 percent of total networked storage -- hardly enough to push Fibre Channel to the fringe. And iSCSI, Fibre Channel, and NAS all showed healthy gains.

Clearly, iSCSI and FC do not present an either/or proposition for customers in the real world, as we note in this month's Byte and Switch Insider, "iSCSI: A Place in the SAN." On the contrary, they're often complementary, and are often being used in the same organizations, even in the same systems.

For instance, Kevin Schooner, director of engineering for enterprise storage solutions distributor Arrow Electronics Inc. (NYSE: ARW), says iSCSI can solve interoperability issues when companies merge or acquire others."Companies buy companies, and odd things can happen when you connect two Fibre Channel fabrics," Schooner says. "A lot of people are finding iSCSI bridge products are good way to connect Fibre Channel fabrics."

Of course, there are still times when Fibre Channel systems compete with iSCSI systems for sales. But there are some surprises here: Jim Tarala, CIO of Appleton, Wisc.-based Schenck Business Solutions, last year replaced an old EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)Clariion SAN with several PS100E IP SANs from startup EqualLogic Inc. (see EqualLogic Announces New Customer). Although performance is one of Fibre Channel's selling points, Tarala says he found the iSCSI system aced his trials leading to the sale.

"We threw it in the data center and beat on it for a couple of months," he says. "Performance was consistently better than our old Clariion Fibre Channel system. Of anything in our data center, that's what I probably worry least about."

Tarala says his 500-person accounting firm tripled its capacity and saved $100,000 after making the move. Yet he insists it wasn't so much iSCSI versus Fibre Channel that made the difference, but more that the EqualLogic system was the right fit for his company. Tarala probably would have gotten better performance from a new Clariion, but that would have cost more; and he looked at other iSCSI SANs but found them lacking. So he didn't go out looking for an IP SAN; he went looking for the right SAN.

If Tarala were looking today, he could check out an iSCSI Clariion system (see EMC Rolls Out IP SAN). When EMC rolled out iSCSI Clariions in February, the IP SAN crowd said it was validating the market. EMC believed it was in tune with the reality of a slowly developing market."We used to joke that it was the third anniversary of the year that iSCSI would take off," says Dave Donatelli, EMC's EVP of storage platforms. "It's still small compared to Fibre Channel. But we see growth. We saw that with Fibre Channel years ago it took a while to take off. With iSCSI it will probably be the same thing."

Bottom line? It's a new world. Having established a toehold, iSCSI is here to stay. And no one benefits by thinking of iSCSI as predominantly a low-end alternative to Fibre Channel.

The "us versus them" mentality has a human factor, too: Ethernet administrators and Fibre Channel specialists often dismiss the other technology, instead of embracing it.

"When selling iSCSI, you have to deal with networking guys," Schooner says. "During the planning phase, the storage guys have to re-engage with the network guys. It's a money saver, but there are different trains of thought."

Here's an idea: If they all hop on the same train, it might make for a smoother trip.— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

The report, iSCSI: A Place in the SAN, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Byte and Switch Insider, priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900. For more information, or to subscribe, please visit:

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