SAS, iSCSI Grab the Spotlight

Vendors tout speed, flexibility, and performance, but some users are dubious

November 5, 2005

3 Min Read
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Serial-attached SCSI (SAS) and iSCSI are about to make the leap from vendor hype to data center reality -- so Roger Cox, research vice president at Gartner Inc., told attendees at this weeks StorageTek user Forum in Washington, D.C. But that sunny view from the dais contrasted with reservations about the technologies on the show floor.

Cox told his audience that iSCSI is now a valid alternative to Fibre Channel for building storage area networks. “An iSCSI SAN resolves SAN interoperability issues. [It is also] less expensive if natively connected,” he explained.

“The only thing that has been holding this back was the number of targets with native iSCSI interfaces. But this is starting to change.”

The analyst predicted that vendors' current focus on low-cost host bus adapters (HBAs) will benefit iSCSI. “You will find some of the same vendors developing iSCSI HBAs. This technology is something that, in the right environment, could save you a lot of money.”

Certainly, a number of vendors are turning their attention to iSCSI at the moment. IBM has already signed a deal to use QLogic iSCSI HBAs in its xSeries family, and, last week, Xyratex officials said several OEMs are loading iSCSI target and initiator software onto its new HS-1235 appliance. (See IBM, EMC OK QLogic HBAs and Xyratex Nets iSCSI OEMs.)Plenty of other firms are also putting their weight behind the technology. Brocade, for example, has lured former IBM exec John Hufferd out of retirement to spearhead its own iSCSI push. (See Brocade CTO Looking at Data Center.)

Cox also expects great things from SAS, which is currently being touted as a better-performing alternative to parallel SCSI technology. ”SAS is coming onto the market this year,” he said. “This technology is totally disruptive -- it has all the performance and high availability of Fibre Channel, but at a price that will be half.”

The other big benefit of SAS is its compatibility with serial ATA (SATA), which was missing from earlier SCSI gear and enables users to deploy both types of storage as an alternative to higher-priced Fibre Channel. Recent weeks have seen a slew of vendors jumping on the SAS bandwagon. (See HP Integrates LSI Logic SAS, Adaptec Beefs Up SAS , JMR Launches Marlin , and LSI Extends SAS Line.)

But one IT manager from a major U.K. retail firm, who asked not to be named, told Byte and Switch that he does not like the idea of being an SAS early adopter. “It’s like anything else -- if you move into it first, you’re likely to get burnt,” he said, admitting that he is still learning about the technology.

Other IT managers at the Forum said that they, too, are still in the dark about SAS. But one, from a U.S. contracting firm, said he was still interested in finding out more about its potential cost savings. “We all want to do our jobs cheaper,” he said.These sentiments echo feedback at the recent Storage Networking World (SNW) event in Orlando, Fla., where users also expressed uncertainty about the technology. (See Adaptec, Seagate Push SAS.)

As for iSCSI, the British IT exec said that the technology has not been on his radar either, adding that vendors have not really been pushing it his way.

But not everyone at this week’s event was ambivalent about the technologies. Michael Tekampe, a systems operations specialist at Sprint said that the telecom giant has already deployed both iSCSI and SAS.

Despite a degree of user skepticism, nearly a third of respondents to last month’s Byte and Switch poll cite SAS’s ability to run in the same box as SCSI as its major selling point, closely followed by its price advantage over Fibre Channel. (See Getting SASsy?)

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and SwitchOrganizations mentioned in this article:

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