Fibre Channel Could Reign through 2007 -

Fibre Channel Could Reign through 2007

A week after the Internet Engineering Task Force ratified the iSCSI standard for storage networking, research firm META Group said Fibre Channel will continue to reign as the dominant SAN architecture in data center deployments in the SAN storage market through 2006, or even 2007.

SAN storage interconnects different kinds of data storage devices with associated data servers on behalf of a larger network, principally using the Fibre Channel protocol. iSCSI is a new Internet Protocol (IP)-based standard for linking data storage facilities, but while it is considered less expensive as well as easier to deploy and manage, many storage experts agree that rooting out ingrained Fibre Channel architectures will be difficult in large enterprises. Accordingly, many analysts see iSCSI as gathering steam initially in the small- to medium-sized businesses.

Keith Brown, Director of Technology and Strategy at Network Appliance, whose firm regularly jockeys for position in the storage market with EMC, recently said Fibre Channel "really struggles in terms of standards, interoperability, complexity and costs."

"With iSCSI, you can implement the semantic equivalent of a Fibre Channel SAN using just Linksys switches for a couple of hundreds of dollars," Brown told

Entrenched Fibre Channel Systems a Barrier for Rapid Adoption of iSCSI

The problem is getting there. While research firms such as Gartner see iSCSI as having a $10 billion market potential in the future, ripping out and replacing Fibre Channel systems may not be an option for some businesses. Also, iSCSI is not quite equipped to handle high-performance applications.

As if the dueling technologies aren't enough to contend with, Stamford, Conn.'s META called the SAN market "highly competitive" among vendors and predicted it would undergo significant changes during the next two years, most of which will occur in management software.

"Vendors will attempt to deliver policy-based storage management that will be tightly integrated, which will be homogeneous initially," said Phil Goodwin, program director with META Group's Server Infrastructure Strategies service. Heterogeneous management capabilities may surface by 2005 or 2006, he said.

EMC is widely acknowledged as the enterprise SAN market leader, with competitors such as Network Appliance, HP, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM in the background.

Network-attached Storage Market to Consolidate

In a separate study, META predicted the networked-attached storage market will consolidate. Used mostly for file serving or sharing among clients and servers, NAS devices usually connect to an Ethernet (TCP/IP) local-area network and are controlled by special operating systems. NAS devices are set up with their own network addresses rather than being attached to the department computer that is serving applications to a network's workstation users. They are often implemented as part of a SAN but do not have the ability to function as one on their own.

Goodwin said the NAS market is maturing and will continue to consolidate through 2006 or 2007. Spending for NAS was modest because many firms are pursuing SAN systems. However, Goodwin said vendors will eventually need to move to shared storage (SAN and NAS) to accommodate customers and compete.

"There are clear leaders, distant challengers, and distant followers in the enterprise network-attached storage market," said Goodwin. "IT organizations must decide what business problems they are trying to solve and select vendors based on a holistic evaluation, particularly for strategic acquisitions."

Storage Comprises 12-15% of Total IT Budget

Overall, META found that storage makes up 12 to 15 percent of the total IT budget.

This makes it crucial for vendors to continue to crank out a variety of products that will meet a broad array of storage needs. It also means IT enterprises must be more selective about what infrastructure they choose to store and back up their data, according to Goodwin.

"We advise clients to consolidate their strategic storage vendors to one or two platforms in order to simplify operations, reduce training, and improve organizational agility," Goodwin said. "An enterprise shortlist would normally be made up of leaders and challengers, but other products can be considered on a best-of-breed basis for a particular application."

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