Interest in iSCSI growing steadily

Storage over IP is an intriguing concept, one with many proponents and many views as to likely costs and how it should best be implemented.

iSCSI has been on the horizon for almost four years. It has the potential to be a disruptive technology by bringing server block I/O into common IP networking. The primary benefits of an iSCSI SAN — the consolidation of storage and storage management — can be realised with even the lowest performing and inexpensive implementations.

iSCSI’s introduction, however, has been delayed while performance concerns have been addressed, standards have been finalised and products developed to these standards. These products are expected to be available during the next few months.

Familiarity with iSCSI

In its recent survey of 300 organisations across Australia, IDC found that awareness of iSCSI is still relatively low, especially among small organisations.

Very few organisations claimed to be familiar with the technology and the benefits it can provide. Only 13 per cent of large organisations, 10 per cent of medium organisations and 25 per cent of small organisations claimed to be familiar or reasonably familiar with the technologies.

More than 75 per cent of small organisations, almost 90 per cent of medium organisations and 86 per cent of large organisations had not heard or only had a vague idea of iSCSI.

Understanding the benefits of iSCSI Technology

Few survey respondents were well informed about the benefits of iSCSI to their business. However, those answering this question displayed considerable understanding of the benefits of iSCSI technology and its potential place in their environment. The study showed that perceptions of the benefits that organisations are likely to gain from adoption of iSCSI vary widely.

The primary benefit survey respondents indicated was that they expect network switches to have a dual function. “Network switches with iSCSI will be able to be SANs on one side and network switches on the other” was given an average score of 3.81 out of a possible 5.

The average scores for the next five expected benefits ranked by the survey are very close. These include, “Network and storage vendors will compete to sell iSCSI products” (3.07); “In some cases it will be possible to combine iSCSI and LAN traffic” (3.04); “iSCSI can eliminate SAN islands” (3.00); “iSCSI will lead to a merging of separate storage and data networks staff” (3.00), and “iSCSI will offer more options for storage over WANs than fibre channel” (2.97).

Relatively low scores were accorded to “Network staff will be able to administer the storage functions of iSCSI SANs” (2.29), and “Network staff will be able to administer the network functions of iSCSI SANs” (2.24). This is interpreted as indicating these survey respondents already understand that the specific requirements and skills for storage are different from network administrators so that combined staff functions are not envisaged as an early justification for iSCSI.

Importance of iSCSI Features

The acceptance and adoption of iSCSI may depend on a user’s acceptance and understanding of the importance of some key features, limitations or pricing.

The key features that interest potential users in iSCSI technology are “Management features” (average score of 3.98 out of a possible 5), and “Security” (3.93).

Other features of interest include “Ease of use” (3.22), “Performance in relation to fibre channel” (3.19), and “Uses networking skills already available within the organisation” (3.12).

“Low price compared with fibre channel” is a very low consideration (average score 2.35). This suggests that users do not consider low pricing to be a requirement for iSCSI adoption. Consequently, emphasis on the other benefits should be a priority for iSCSI vendors.

The introduction of iSCSI: 2005 will be a banner year

Given the general lack of awareness and the uncertainty of the benefits, the recent survey revealed the likely timeframe for the early introduction of iSCSI is at least 18 months for small organisations, two to three years for medium organisations and 18 months to two years for large organisations. This indicates that 2005 will be the key year for iSCSI in Australia. w

Graham Penn is director, storage research, Asia/Pacific, IDC

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