By Heidi Biggar
Until recently, iSCSI has not ranked high on end-user priority lists. The absence of a completed standards specification and the lack of native iSCSI target devices (i.e., disk arrays and tape drives) have kept end-user interest levels low.
But that picture may be changing. The recent approval of a draft standard by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and new vendor activity (in the form of disk systems) portend a change in end-user—and vendor—attitude toward the interface.
Already, several vendors have announced native iSCSI disk systems, and more are expected. IBM was first to market with an iSCSI disk array but pulled the product from the market last year. And Eurologic Systems, which shipped its first iSCSI array (the iCS2100) late last year, announced upgrades to the device last month.
New to the scene is EqualLogic, which at the Server I/O conference in January, previewed its iSCSI disk array. It plans to begin product shipments within the next few months. Company officials say the new system is currently being tested by a number of financial, travel, and defense companies.
The array, which is based on the company's modular PeerStorage architecture, will reportedly be available as a 3U rack-mount subsystem with Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and support for up to 14 Serial ATA disk drives. The device is self-managing and can automatically provision storage across EqualLogic arrays in a common storage pool.
EqualLogic officials believe the market opportunity for iSCSI is potentially much greater than that of Fibre Channel SANs and extends to all Fortune 500 companies, even those with existing Fibre Channel SANs.
"There is a common misperception that all mission-critical data at Fortune 500 companies is already on a SAN, when the reality is that only one third of it is," says Peter Hayden, CEO, president, and founder of EqualLogic, in Nashua, NH. "Our focus is on moving storage that is still direct-attached onto an IP SAN."
EqualLogic claims that its approach can reduce SAN acquisition and operating costs by up to 75% compared to Fibre Channel alternatives.
While the overall reaction to EqualLogic's announcement was positive, analysts caution that the eventual success of this type of product depends not only on the start-up's ability to partner with leading systems vendors, but also on the maturation rate of the nascent iSCSI market.
"EqualLogic has developed an interesting twist on iSCSI. Whereas most iSCSI products treat iSCSI as a lower-cost and lower-throughput 'wire,' EqualLogic leverages the properties of IP to build a more flexible storage pool," says Jacob Farmer, chief technology officer at Cambridge Computer, an integration and consulting firm, in Cambridge, MA.
The question is when—or if—iSCSI will take off. As a barometer of market activity, analysts are focusing on activity within the IETF and at Microsoft. As mentioned, the IETF last month finally approved the iSCSI standard. Microsoft remains tight-lipped about when it will make free iSCSI drivers available, but the drivers are expected to be included in Windows .NET Server and will be available as a service pack for Windows 2000.