The poor man's SAN

The poor man's SAN

Market sweet spot

SNIA's Dale said IP storage was being deployed primarily in environments dominated by mid-range and low-end servers. The servers are likely to be Intel-architecture servers running Windows, Novell NetWare or Linux operating systems. "Building affordable SANs is a good match for low-cost servers," he said.

Like Dale, Network Appliance marketing and alliances director, Mark Heers, said IP SANs had a very specific purpose, and were ideal at a remote or branch office, or in conjunction with the main Fibre Channel SAN as they extended and complemented existing environments.

"The majority of the market is singing the Fibre Channel tune," Heers said. "The IP SAN install base is small, but it's growing. We're out of the early adopter phase and into the maturity phase. It's now an accepted technology, and a decent number of vendors have an iSCSI offering."

The majority of IP users are entering the network storage arena for the first time. These companies want the ease of use and cost benefits associated with managing an IP SAN versus Fibre Channel.

"People going for iSCSI are new to the network storage arena and don't want the expense of going for Fibre Channel," Heers said.

Secondary SAN

Climbing up the food chain, larger organisations may opt for an IP SAN as a secondary networking method where Fibre Channel may be too costly and unnecessary to have at the departmental or branch office site.

EMC director of marketing, Clive Gold, said larger organisations that want to capture stranded servers - perhaps older ones - are likely adoption spots for iSCSI technology.

"There are two market segments: smaller customers that want to run applications that are low value and determine the cost of putting in Fibre Channel wouldn't be worth it; and larger customers that want to hook up their data centres at regional and departmental offices."

In these environments, the data centre looks different than the core data centre with the servers being smaller and more numerous. According to SNIA, the need for network storage solutions is likely to be most acute here, although the penetration of networked storage is only likely to be about 30 per cent.

It said IP storage made significant advances on several fronts last year. On the standards front, the most recent version of the Storage Management Initiative Specification, SMI-S version 1.1, now includes support for iSCSI.

This year, and last year, was a breakout year for iSCSI as the industry continues to see significant product releases from server and storage platform vendors, and more and more vendors entering the market, Dale said.

Industry experts agree Microsoft's endorsement of the technology signalled a positive step forward with the company announcing iSCSI support in Exchange, SQL Server and in Windows OS.

"The Microsoft support was developed in the last 12 months and is the most notable market mover," NetApp's Heers said. "The other huge move was VMware's support of iSCSI."

In addition to vendor endorsement, users and resellers are attracted to the relative ease of use and simple installation associated with an IP SAN compared to the complexity associated with Fibre Channel and the required expertise.

"IP is a straightforward technology to use. Resellers already have the appropriate knowledge base to set it up and understand standard Ethernet networking," Heers said. Smaller organisations, with limited IT staff, would be better able to decipher the IP technology rather than the skills needed to hook up Fibre Channel.

"Fibre Channel is complex and not something that the average, solo IT person would understand," Heers said. "It's a technology that's a little more specialised. It's something that larger organisations would be more capable of implementing."

SNIA's Dale said iSCSI, meanwhile, represented a big selling opportunity for resellers in terms of professional services. "Resellers can do SQL Server or Exchange migration. It's a big opportunity for differentiation because they can do OS platform migration services attached to this." While the most popular applications in an iSCSI environment are Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and business applications running on top of smaller Oracle or IBM DB2 databases, messaging, Web, ecommerce and some technical applications are also a good fit with iSCSI environments, he said.

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