Storage Customers Give iSCSI a Second Look

The tide seems to be turning for the Internet Small Computer System Interface, a standard that analysts say has been hampered by misunderstanding of its role.

NEW YORK—Gauging from the favorable reaction of data storage customers, the tide may be turning for iSCSI to move from a misunderstood storage network standard to a crucial component of enterprise storage systems.

Chatter around iSCSI, or Internet Small Computer System Interface, rang throughout the halls of the Storage Decisions Conference here this week.

The iSCSI protocols ability to boost performance and transmission of storage data, as well as the proliferation of IP networks, have earmarked the standard as a way to usher rapid development of SANs (storage area networks).

But a lack of adoption and misunderstanding of the standards role have seriously stalled those efforts, analysts say.

"There is a lot of misinterpretation surrounding the role of iSCSI," said Mike Karp, an analyst at Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates. "There seems to be an assumption that iSCSI is only good for SMB [small and midsized businesses]—that is wrong. Its been selling to large companies that treat remote offices as small, independent business units."

Customers say vendors deserve some of the blame for that confusion.

"I was looking for iSCSI devices that provided a reprovisioning software layer that could pool storage," said Ken Walters, senior director of enterprise platforms for Alexandria, Va.-based Public Broadcasting Corp. "[But] some router or switch vendors promoting iSCSI, they dont even try to play in those areas."

Walters said he was initially "worried" about iSCSI performance. But he said those fears were allayed once comparisons against local disk storage were investigated. "I was prepared for it to be terrible, but I was pleasantly surprised at how plug-and-play it really was," he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about Snap Appliance joining the iSCSI club with its new Snap Server.

Other customers running iSCSI, such as Thomas Reynolds, senior executive director of information systems and technology at Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnical firm Idenix Pharmaceuticals, said the IP protocol is delivering capabilities that popular storage alternatives, such as the widely adopted network attached storage (NAS), have been unable to respond to.

"Weve been looking at NAS as some ways of separating [our] servers from storage, but when I looked at iSCSI, it was for more than what NAS could give us in terms of scalability," Reynolds said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about new products that smaller vendors rolled out at the Storage Decisions Conference.

Rick Hulsey, manager of midrange support and engineering technology for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., said he has been testing iSCSI but will not have the technology in production until later this year. He marveled at all of the noise iSCSI was making at Storage Decisions.

"I see a lot of people here talking about iSCSI—that makes me feel a lot more comfortable about it when people are having good success," Hulsey said. "We really didnt want to be the first ones out there [running iSCSI] and have issues that arise."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about IT managers struggle to comply with data-retention regulations, also discussed at the conference.

Hulsey said larger vendors that have not yet perfected their iSCSI message could have a lot of ground to make up on smaller players pushing the technology.

"I kind of get the sense its a hole in their product line, if its not" being aggressively promoted, he said.

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