The poor man's SAN

The poor man's SAN

Branch offices, remote sites and smaller organisations are looking at the cost and simplicity of IP storage.

As companies update their storage wardrobe and cloak themselves in modern garb, IP solutions are finally being accepted as a viable networked storage option. They have made great strides since debuting in 2003.

IP storage is a general term covering several approaches to using Internet Prototol (IP) in a storage area network (SAN) usually over Gigabit Ethernet. It is an alternative to the Fibre Channel framework of traditional SANs.

Industry experts claim IP storage offers a number of benefits over Fibre Channel alternatives. Fibre Channel issues include expense, complexity and interoperability. With IP SANs, the hardware components are less expensive, the technologies are widely known. There are few interoperability issues and training costs are lower.

Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) IP storage forum chair, David Dale, said it's been a slow, but steady uptake.

He said the technology was finally broadening the options available to IT executives to address the cost, availability, performance and manageability issues caused by continual data growth.

Many companies are analysing the savings they can achieve by replacing direct-attached storage with an IP storage area network (SAN) solution. Rather than opt for the traditional Fibre Channel SAN in all business scenarios, which can be costly and tricky to implement, many companies are choosing to throw IP storage into the equation.

Industry shift

Calling IP storage the poor man's SAN, AustSTOR Data Storage business development manager, Bruce Macdonald, said the value-added storage distributor was seeing an industry wide shift towards IP technology.

"We're seeing many of our vendors provide iSCSI connectivity as a standard feature," he said. "IP storage continues to make inroads as customers look to move more data to remote disaster recovery data centres seamlessly."

He said IP storage and WAN accelerator technology would have a big play in the disaster recovery market. Its native transport medium means there are few upfront infrastructure costs.

IP SANs typically fall into one of two categories: those that use an Ethernet link to interconnect Fibre Channel SAN environments via gateways; and those where a SAN is built using Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure instead of Fibre Channel.

SNIA's Dale said IP SANs leveraged a company's existing investment in the Ethernet infrastructure. "It offers more affordable SAN storage, support for all applications, lowers the total cost of ownership and infrastructure complexity, and is manageable by existing server administrative staff," he said.

Dale is not alone in his bullish forecasts. Many analysts now view iSCSI SAN as a mainstream solution for Windows server environments in medium and large organisations, with estimates that more than 6000 customers worldwide have deployed iSCSI-based SAN solutions.

IDC views iSCSI as the fastest-growing area of the storage market - with an expected 211 per cent compound annual growth for 2005-2009 to reach a value of $US2.65 billion.

IDC senior storage analyst, Graham Penn, said IP storage was providing affordable new SAN storage solutions in parts of the IT infrastructure that are still dominated by direct-attached storage.

Penn said the technology was ideal for regional and departmental data centres and across various remote offices. The applications running in these smaller environments might not be mission-critical, so they didn't require the mighty performance of a Fibre Channel SAN, but they were still business critical and would be well suited to the flexibility of iSCSI technology.

"We're not seeing any wholesale replacement of Fibre Channel in the data centre at this point," Penn said. "Customers are sticking with it as it would be too costly to change.

"But the prospect of simpler, lower cost technology is driving the IP push. People better understand IP, while there's a limited understanding of Fibre Channel."

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