New developments in storage over IP are signaling the end of Fibre Channels reign as the high-speed storage interconnect king.
In three to five years, experts say, storage-over-IP networks based on the proposed iSCSI specification will push out Fibre Channel, which has suffered from high cost and interoperability issues—two problems iSCSI addresses.
To help iSCSI meet the interoperability challenges, the Storage Networking Industry Association, the chief backer of iSCSI, along with computer scientists from the University of New Hampshire, will gather vendors in Colorado Springs, Colo., this summer for Plug Fest, during which iSCSI products will be tested in an enterprise environment.
Although most new products are compliant with Version 0.6 of the specification, little will change from 0.6 to 1.0, which will give vendors a head start in producing iSCSI products, experts said.
"iSCSI is going to open up a whole new marketplace," said Ahmed Zamer, product line manager for Intel Corp.s LAN Access Division, in Austin, Texas, and chairman of SNIAs iSCSI working group. "In three years, if you look under any network, there will be the technology capable of delivering better solutions to users for storage and management of storage. That is going to be Ethernet."
Attendees of NetWorld+Interop here last week got a healthy sample of the kinds of products coming down the pike. With the iSCSI spec set to solidify as early as September, vendors flooded the show floor with demonstrations of iSCSI storage, switch and host bus adapter products.
Adaptec Inc., of Milpitas, Calif., displayed several new host bus adapter products, including the AEA-7110C, a PCI card that offers a speed of 1G bps. The card, which will ship to OEMs this quarter, was demonstrated with what IBM and Adaptec officials call the first native IP storage system, the IBM TotalStorage IP Storage 200i. Adaptecs products are part of a group of adapters that can enable interoperability with storage systems, including Fibre Channel.
Similarly, Intel demonstrated the Intel Pro/1000 T IP Storage Adapter with the IBM 200i. Intel is sharing the card with OEMs and plans general availability later this year.
In addition, the advent of 10 Gigabit Ethernet products later this year and into next year will further speed the pace of adoption of IP storage products.
Even EMC Corp., the ostensible leader in Fibre Channel technology and undisputed storage market leader, is taking a serious look at storage over IP in general and at iSCSI down the road. At the show here, the Hopkinton, Mass., company announced a Fibre Channel-over-IP solution developed with Computer Network Technology Corp., of Minneapolis. The solution employs EMCs Fibre Channel Symmetrix Remote Data Facility for Internet Protocol and CNTs UltraNet storage switch, increasing the distance of a Fibre Channel connection and lowering the overall cost.
EMC officials said iSCSI will ultimately be the choice of administrators. "We can envision the day when iSCSI replaces Fibre Channel, three to five years out," said Barry Burke, manager of EMCs Storage Area Network and Advanced Connectivity division. "But Fibre Channel isnt going away."
Enterprise administrators recognize that the lower costs associated with hardware and training of IP solutions will be a major factor in determining the fate of Fibre Channel, as will performance. But yet another option could be even more attractive: Gigabit Ethernet combined with NAS (network-attached storage) systems.
"Every time I look at Fibre Channel cards, hubs and switches, the costs still stay pretty high," said Gary Gunnerson, IT architect at Gannett Company Inc., in Arlington, Va., and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "In some regards, we look at NAS hooking straight into Gigabit Ethernet because the cost of those is pretty low."
He added that the Fibre Channel communitys work on 2G-bps speeds is proceeding slowly, further raising doubts about its ability to compete with iSCSI or NAS.