Cisco exec: SANs too expensive for SMBs

Networks that pool together storage resources may be common in the enterprise, but their cost so far has kept them from being deployed in more than 10 percent of small and medium-sized businesses, said a Cisco Systems executive speaking at the Computer Digital Expo conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Though the benefits of pooling together storage devices into storage area networks, or SANs, are just as compelling for smaller businesses, these networks remain far more prevalent in large businesses, 70 percent of which have deployed some form of SAN, said Jacqueline Ross, the vice president of Cisco's storage business unit.

Ross cited the results of a series of nine focus groups in the U.S. that Cisco had recently commissioned. The study found that cost ranked ahead of complexity, a lack of management tools and concerns over interoperability as the number one reason small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) had not adopted the technology.

The lack of small business adoption makes sense with the price of Fibre Channel HBAs (host bus adapters), commonly used in the enterprise to connect servers in a SAN, priced in the US$6,000 range, Ross said.

"If your host is a very large $100,000 server, then you can justify the cost of a Fibre Channel HBA," she said. However, companies would have a harder time justifying the cost of a $6,000 HBA on a $10,000 server, she said.

"That initial acquisition cost is a sticking point, and it's just easier to continue to buy that direct-attached storage," she said.

The iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface) protocol, which can also be used with less expensive IP (Internet Protocol) components, is beginning to emerge as a low-cost alternative to Fibre Channel, Ross said. With list prices of iSCSI HBAs dropping by about 50 percent in the last year, they are finally reaching a point where SMBs are beginning to experiment with SANs, primarily for data backup, she said.

ISCSI will coexist with Fibre Channel, and not displace it, as some have predicted, she said.

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