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Enterprise Computing: Is iSCSI The New Home Protocol?

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I’d like to think I’ve visited a lot of customer sites over the years.  Admittedly most of these are “enterprise” class with multi-terabyte if not petabyte quantities of storage.  None of those customers have ever bothered deploying iSCSI as their storage protocol.  Invariably block storage has been implemented using fibre channel and file using CFS or NFS.  Somehow iSCSI just doesn’t seem to figure.  I have a few thoughts on why…

  • Network versus Storage.  There’s no doubt, Network and Storage teams get on about as well as cats and dogs.  Although both support networking technologies, they are implemented fundamentally differently.  In fact the only organisation I’ve seen that had the Network team managing fibre channel had implemented it like an IP network and it was a mess.  As the iSCSI protocol means handing control of the physical transport layer to the network team, then the simpler option is to avoid using iSCSI in the first place.
  • It’s Too Easy.  This may seem like a contradiction, but running a fibre channel network usually means managing a controlled environment.  Nobody connects without permission, nobody gets access without being zoned in.  Implementing iSCSI is simple and so inherently means less control.
  • There are no Standards.  Fibre channel networks are great because you have to use expensive components and match everything against approved matrices or you don’t get support.  iSCSI can be implemented using the cheapest NIC and virtual iSCSI targets.  However, this ease of use also means there’s no vendor certification in the way there is with fibre channel.  Who are you going to blame when things go wrong?
  • FCoE will Rule The World.  Yes, Fibre Channel over Ethernet will be the One Storage Protocol to Rule Them All and replace fibre channel, iSCSI, AoE, NFS, CIFS, and any other protocol you care to name.  OK, I’m being slightly sarcastic, but FCoE is set to harmonise the physical connect, leaving iSCSI redundant.

So what’s the future for iSCSI?  We’ve seen the rise in popularity of home storage devices in recent years (think Iomega and Drobo).  We’re now seeing these devices sporting Ethernet connectivity that supports iSCSI.  With iSCSI Initiators (like the one in Windows) being totally ubiquitous, it’s a no-brainer to deploy iSCSI in home and small office environments.  Maybe there is still a future for iSCSI after all in providing low-cost block storage for the consumer masses.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • http://storagebod.typepad.com Martin G

    Okay, but if 10GbE becomes consumer (which it will in time), why won’t FCoE make it into consumer devices? There are already software stacks out there!

    BTW, although I think FCoE has a big future; mostly driven by storage traditionalists, I’m not convinced that iSCSI like rust will slowly eat away at FC. I used to feel that FCoE was really the future, I’m less convinced these days. In fact, I wish it would just go away but then that’s because I want to see more converged teams and that includes storage and network teams.

  • http://ewan.to Ewan

    I think most of the arguments you make above are true, but I think you’ve missed the biggest reason why iscsi never really made an impact in existing fibre channel environments – inertia

    Enterprise It teams generally hate change, if they liked it they wouldn’t cope in the enterprise locked-down, don’t take a risk mentality.

    In those kind of environments, anyone who suggested implementing iscsi alongside fibre channel would be viewed as slightly mad, so its much easier to justify the $1000+ per fibre channel network port

    On the other side, I don’t see FCOE making an impact in smaller environments any time soon, 10Gb iscsi will be as you say easy, understood by the sole it administrator, and provide much higher performance than the disk array connecting to it, and usable on relatively cheap $1000 switches

  • Paul

    Why do you think FCoE will triumph over iSCSI.

    Surely when 10 GigE is prevalent, customers will prefer the much simpler and more flexible technology of iSCSI ?

    EqualLogic is fast catching up on the feature set required by the vast majority of storage professionals, not to mention it’s considerably easier & quicker to setup and deploy !

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  • http://www.virsto.com Alex Miroshnichenko

    Would generally agree – I am actually a bit amazed that FibreChannel lasted that long..

    However for home one of the biggest problems for iSCSI is the difficulty of sharing the storage devices at the file level – you would effectively need a cluster file system on all you clients which makes sharing across heterogeneous clients a problem. NAS devices have been doing for ages and at the performance in a typical home environment would be essentially the same as iSCSI..

  • http://www.deepstorage.net Howard Marks

    FCoE, unlike iSCSI, doesn’t and can’t run on Ethernet switches even Ethernet switches with DBC,CEE,DCE extensions unless those switches are specifically equipped with for FCoE. That means the switch vendor needs FC knowledge and only Cisco, Brocade and Qlogic are equipped there. This will keep FCoE as a much more expensive solution than iSCSI.

    Why don’t FC shops run iSCSI:

    1 – 2 solutions to the same problem is too many even if it has lower CapEx.

    2 – We have storage guys have FC tools that don’t support iSCSI (in part a chicken and egg problem if big iSCSI nets existed the tool makers would add support)

    3 – The network guys would be involved.

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