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The Year of iSCSI?

07/05/09 | in: General

Every year, it seems, is going to be the year iSCSI emerges as a serious threat to the continued dominance of Fibre Channel (FC) as the protocol of choice for Storage Area Networks (SANs). It finally looks as though it may be happening.

The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) is forecasting 50% growth for iSCSI implementations in the USA during the coming year. This is partly, they say, because acceptance by HDS, EMC and IBM has validated the protocol. It is now visible to a wider audience. This is not the full story.

ESG also note that the market for iSCSI has traditionally been small & medium sized businesses (SMB); but they are now seeing the use of the protocol in “high capacity, high performance verticals”. Also some products like Left Hand Network SANiQ have novel approaches to virtualisation. Virtualisation is the high focus issue of the moment and this is likely to be fuel for iSCSI growth.

Search Storage recently noted that their analyst and solution provider interviews have led them to forecast that iSCSI will replace FC as the dominant storage network technology within five years.

Another major issue is total cost of ownership (TCO). A recent study by Forrester Research of Cambridge, Massachusetts noted that “host bus adapters (HBA) still cost between $1,100 and $1,400 a card. Similarly, Fibre Channel director class switches cost $1,500 per port and fabric switches go for around $650 per Fibre Channel port. However a Cisco Catalyst 6500 Ethernet switch costs only $250 per port, and that price difference extends down to the cabling. Twenty feet of CAT6 Ethernet cable costs about $12 and from $50 to $150 for the same quantity of Fibre Channel cable.“ At a cost level they say “in every category, iSCSI is favourable.” Additionally they note that iSCSI HBAs are becoming a standard component in many servers.

Many people are beginning to argue that iSCSI now delivers enterprise class performance at a much lower price. They also observe that iSCSI presents less interoperability issues that FC and that the new players, like Left Hand Networks, play much better in the VMWare environment than has been the case in the past. We believe NetApp’s VMWare capability and its ability to provision iSCSI, SAN and NAS protocols through the same head positions it as the enterprise player best able to enable its customers to take advantage of the growth in iSCSI.

The emergence of 10 gigabit Ethernet may be the last piece of the jigsaw that will finally lead to the anticipated growth of iSCSI to the detriment if FC.