EqualLogic targets iSCSI SANs

By Heidi Biggar

Attendees at this week's Server I/O conference in Monterey, CA, got a glimpse of a new iSCSI disk architecture from EqualLogic that may mark the beginning of a new wave of iSCSI activity.

An 18-month-old start-up based in Nashua, NH, EqualLogic says it is currently testing the device with a number of financial, travel, and defense companies. It expects to ship production units sometime in the first half of this year.

The array, which is based on the company's modular PeerStorage disk 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 within the array(s) in a common storage pool.

EqualLogic officials believe the market opportunity for iSCSI is potentially much greater than that of Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs) and extends to all Fortune 400 companies, even those with existing Fibre Channel SANs.

Our plan is to target "tier-2" SAN opportunities, says Peter Hayden, CEO, president, and founder of EqualLogic. By "tier-2," Hayden means any IT organization looking to build a SAN for such applications as e-mail, Lotus Notes, and other business/marketing databases, etc.

"There is a common misperception [in the IT community] that all mission-critical data at Fortune 400 companies is already on a SAN, when the reality is that only one third of it is," explains Hayden. "Our focus is on moving that 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 this announcement has been positive, analysts caution that the eventual success of this type of product depends not only on EqualLogic's ability to partner with leading systems vendors, but also on the maturation 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 of Cambridge Computer, an integration and consulting firm.

"EqualLogic is 'primed' to be in the middle of an [iSCSI] market that I still think is going to be enormous," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group. The question is when--or if--iSCSI will take off. As a barometer of market activity, analysts are focusing on activity within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and at Microsoft.

The IETF is expected to approve the long-awaited iSCSI specification as early as next month. As for Microsoft, they remain tight-lipped about when they will make free iSCSI drivers available. The drivers are expected to be standard in Windows .NET Server and available as a service pack for Windows 2000.

This article was originally published on January 22, 2003