Fortune 500 Firm Ditches Fibre Channel for iSCSI

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It may be an exaggeration to say there is a war being waged for the hearts and minds — and purchase orders — of enterprise customers looking for SAN solutions, but listening to the debate between Fibre Channel supporters and fans of iSCSI, it’s probably fair to call it a heated battle (see iSCSI Rides Virtualization Wave and How iSCSI Lost the War).

Proponents of iSCSI point to the more than 25,000 iSCSI production implementations, a number that is expected to climb exponentially over the next few years, according to IDC. Yet iSCSI commands just a 3 percent share of the total external disk storage systems market, paling in comparison to Fibre Channel installations.

One Fortune Global 500 company, Adecco, which bills itself as the world leader in human resource services, recently chose an open iSCSI SAN from LeftHand Networks to replace its existing Fibre Channel solution for its North American operations. So is iSCSI ready for prime time, or at least ready to be considered as a valid player in the enterprise storage space? LeftHand Networks and Adecco certainly think so.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

For David Bossi, vice president of Information Technology for the Adecco Group, North America, the main reason for switching to iSCSI was “pure economics.” Bossi was looking to reduce the expensive maintenance costs associated with Fibre Channel while consolidating his five North American data centers.

“We needed an architecture that didn’t require significant capital investment to migrate data,” said Bossi. “With traditional Fibre Channel storage, there are either some very expensive networking costs associated with data migration and consolidation and/or a need to buy special technology to convert from the traditional Fibre Channel to IP, transmit the data and then convert the data back from IP to Fibre Channel. So we wanted to avoid those additional costs and issues.”

Bossi and his team looked at several vendors, including IBM, HP and EMC, but a number of things attracted him to LeftHand Networks’ open iSCSI SAN solution.

“Part of the draw to LeftHand’s technology was that we as an organization have had an ongoing relationship with HP and have leveraged HP server infrastructure for some time, and only LeftHand allowed us to leverage that existing HP technology,” said Bossi.

Bossi also liked LeftHand Networks’ distributed architecture. “Their approach is different in that it’s a distributed storage array technology,” said Bossi. “It’s not that I’m buying one device and that device is going to be the access method to my storage network. Their technology is a distributed architecture across many nodes. So it has greater reliability, and it actually addresses several of our disaster recovery, risk analysis and risk remediation challenges.”

“We provide a level of ability that other vendors don’t that we call Network RAID,” said John Fanelli, vice president of marketing at LeftHand Networks. “We do RAID not only at the device level, but also at the system level, meaning that many of our customers will start with five systems that they used to build a single SAN and we can run RAID across those systems, not just within them, but also across them using the network.”

As for implementation, Bossi said, “the conversion to the LeftHand SAN was quick, seamless and provided comparable, if not better, performance and capacity than our existing Fibre Channel solution.”

LeftHand Delivers

Since going into production, the LeftHand solution has delivered as promised, addressing Adecco’s growing storage needs with little to no downtime during routine maintenance and upgrades to the system.

The SAN is capable of running a variety of the company’s business critical systems, including Exchange Server 2007 (LeftHand Networks recently successfully completed the Microsoft Exchange Solution Reviewed Program), Citrix Systems, Microsoft Terminal Services, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Databases, PeopleSoft and other support applications. By the end of 2007, Adecco’s open iSCSI SAN is expected to handle up to 200 TB of data.

“Generally today in the Fibre Channel world, you have to make a compromise between affordability and a feature-rich SAN,” said Fanelli. “And when you think about the key capabilities of a SAN, it’s the ability to virtualize your storage but also provide things like snapshots, provisioning, synchronous replication, asynchronous replication, failover and fallback across multiple sites.

“In the marketplace, either the affordable solutions can’t offer those capabilities, or if those capabilities are offered they are typically offered as an add-on that’s typically very expensive,” Fanelli said. “So it’s forced customers to compromise between their business and IT requirements and their budgets. Our approach, because of our modular, grow-as-necessary architecture, enables us to provide those capabilities across all price points, to everyone from SMBs to mid-tier customers to the enterprise. So, for example, we can offer a 6 terabyte SAN with all of those features for about $28,000.”

So what’s the takeaway in all of this?

“The takeaway should be that open iSCSI SANs are no longer second-class citizens to Fibre Channel,” said Fanelli. “One of the concerns around iSCSI has been, is it mature enough now for the enterprise? And the Adecco deployment is just one of many that we have that demonstrates that a LeftHand open iSCSI SAN is mature enough, based on the price, the size and the performance.”

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Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff
Jennifer Schiff is a business and technology writer and a contributor to Enterprise Storage Forum. She also runs Schiff & Schiff Communications, a marketing firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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