IP storage adoption gathers pace

IP storage adoption gathers pace

IP storage has finally found its footing and is breathing new life into a host of data centre environments around the globe, according to a leading member of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

While not supplanting its mightier Fibre Channel cousin, it is certainly holding its own as a mid-range application play, SNIA IP Forum chair, David Dale, told ARN.

But the technology is becoming a more appropriate solution for business critical IT environments. Many claim it is now a viable alternative to Fibre Channel because it is less expensive and much easier to manage. Putting the IP in storage (or iSCSI) has been an interesting ride, and one that's finally starting to bear fruit. "The technology was over-hyped before," Dale said. "When people said it was ready, it sounded like it was here, but it wasn't here at all."

Times have changed. "iSCSI has reached mainstream status now," Dale said. "By the end of 2006, there were more than 25,000 iSCSI-based SANs around the world. The vast majority were Windows environments. Many customers are looking to displace direct-attach storage (DAS)."

Dale said IP storage made sense for larger enterprises that had regional or departmental data centres or smaller companies looking to jump into the storage networking arena for the first time.

"In larger organisations, Fibre Channel SANs are well established in the primary data centre, but cost and complexity has deterred them from deploying it in the secondary sites, so iSCSI makes sense here," Dale said.

"With SMBs, there's still 50 per cent not using networked storage, and relying on DAS, so iSCSI is a good fit given it's cheaper and less complex than Fibre Channel."

Certainly, there's a growing place for iSCSI at the networking storage table.

"IT executives, who were conservative about business decisions based on iSCSI, now have a safe choice with iSCSI," he said.

Fibre Channel still makes sense at the top end of town. "iSCSI is still a mid-range application play in terms of performance and availability," Dale said. "It is good for tier-two and tier-three storage, but doesn't make the grade for mission-critical applications, which is served well by Fibre Channel."

Locally, Dale said Telstra has opted for an IP storage flavour, mixing it into its distributed data centres.

"There's a very large iSCSI deployment going on there, close to a petabyte, which is about 1000TBs. Believe me, that's a lot of storage."

Dale said key market drivers include the virtualisation frenzy, the growing reliance on blade servers, and the promise of 10Gig, which will give iSCSI a massive performance boost.

"There are some cool things happening," he said. "There's lots of interest in the capabilities being opened up by blade environments. You can replace a dozen servers by having the small blade chassis. Using iSCSI, you can do on-the-fl y provisioning by booting from the SAN. Instead of spending half a day configuring a server, you can do it in 10 minutes."

The rollout of 10Gig, and its ongoing price reduction, will also drive demand. "The issue here is whether the hardware architecture is ready to support 10Gig," Dale said. Three or four years ago, the price per port of 10Gig was $20,000 - now it's $1000.

Bulging data
The more networked storage options there are the better, according to Dale, because the explosion of information and the challenges related to its effective management are major pain points for the enterprise data centre today.

IP storage is answering the call. IDC views iSCSI as the fastest-growing area of the storage market - with an expected 73 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for 2006-2010, and the market reaching $5.1 billion by the end of the decade.

HP storage product marketing manager, Mark Nielsen, said iSCSI was growing up. "We're seeing more and more interest in iSCSI and in IP storage," he said.

Nielsen said SMBs were looking to iSCSI for consolidation needs and didn't want the big expense of rolling out Fibre Channel. Large enterprise, particularly in a branch office environment, is also attracted to the cheaper alternative.

At the lower end of the market, the all-in-one iSCSI concept began making inroads four months ago, he said. "It offers iSCSI capability, but also NAS and backup. Many SMBs don't have expertise in setting up a SAN, so the main benefit here is simplicity. There's an opportunity for partners to impart their knowledge. "We're also seeing an interest in the data centre with customers being able to mix Fibre Channel and IP for servers that don't require high-performance connection." The iSCSI enterprise virtual array connectivity kit provides consolidated management.

"The Fibre Channel/IP out-of-the-box solution provides both protocols on one array, which makes it easier for administrators to manage the storage," Nielsen said.

He was pleased by the current iSCSI push. "It's encouraging to see iSCSI taking off. It has taken some time, but there's no doubt it has a place in the market," Nielsen said. The technology is starting to push the boundaries, and getting more in line with Fibre Channel-type functionality. "While Fibre Channel is still the premier, iSCSI is offering advanced capabilities such as redundant paths on each server and failovers," he said.

Sententia sales manager, Joel Norton, agreed the iSCSI market was finally heating up. He attributed the latest sizzle to pure play iSCSI vendors moving into the market, giving traditional storage vendors such as EMC and NetApp a run for their money.

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