Microsoft recently announced that it would provide support for the iSCSI standard in Windows client and server environments by next month. A spokesperson for the software giant said that the announcement signals the company's continued focus on making Windows a stronger platform for storage. But the lingering question concerning iSCSI still exists: Is it just a pipe dream at this point, or has iSCSI finally arrived into the world of mainstream technology?
In 2002, SNIA predicted that by the end of 2003, almost every operating system would have support for iSCSI, and with the recent announcement from Microsoft, its prediction may very well come true. "Microsoft's support for iSCSI is a great endorsement for the importance and value of iSCSI to customers," says Eric Schott, director, product management at EqualLogic. According to Jon Greene, director of product management at FlaconStor Software, Inc., the interest and momentum for IP-based storage has been growing for years. "Microsoft's endorsement and embedded support provide critical distribution and exposure that will accelerate the process," he says.
So, is the future of iSCSI finally here? According to Nitesh Gulhati, product manager at Intel, iSCSI has moved from being a "work-in-progress" to a ratified standard in an impressive amount of time. "This growth, along with the need for centralized data storage by small and medium-sized businesses, will help facilitate the mainstream adoption of iSCSI, says Gulhati. Greene agrees. "The ratification of an iSCSI standard and the Windows 2003 operating system are watershed events that will provide the impetus necessary to launch iSCSI into the mainstream," he says.
iSCSI - The Cost-Effective Solution
With iSCSI seemingly on its way to becoming a mainstream technology, exactly what makes it such a positive addition for the enterprise storage environment? Schott says iSCSI provides cost-effective connection costs by allowing customers to use standard Ethernet switches and a choice of hardware or software initiators on hosts to connect storage. "This allows appropriate connections regardless of server size or performance needs." He also adds that iSCSI has the ability to leverage high performance networking technologies and a larger pool of trained administrators.
Gulhati seems to think that one of iSCSI's major advantages is in deployment. "The basic infrastructure in an iSCSI network is the same as most IP networks; therefore, in some cases an expansion or use of existing infrastructure will cost the enterprise customer significantly less than if they deployed a technology that wasn't IP-based."
Greene believes that iSCSI is an excellent fit for enterprise environments because its roots are well understood and it's based on a standard that has widespread industry acceptance that can deliver a wide variety of compatible solutions to the market. "iSCSI is well suited to not only be incorporated in SANs within the corporate data center, but to extend the SAN benefits to distributed data centers and smaller sites, such as remote offices," says Greene.
Many people believe that in addition to iSCSI's ability to leverage high performance networking technologies (among other things), it will also save enterprises a lot of money. "iSCSI not only has much lower connection costs," affirms Schott, "it has lower setup, integration, and management costs." Schott also stresses that iSCSI offers improved integration of features, and since it runs over TCP/IP, storage components can assume the richness of TCP/IP networks in their design.
"The types of potential cost savings from iSCSI are similar to those derived from any well-implemented SAN infrastructure, including reduced capital expenditures for storage based on higher utilization and reduced operating expenses resulting from a greater administrative span of control," says Greene. However, he also points out that these savings are dependent as much or more on the quality of management and storage services software as they are on network topology. Gulhati also seems to think that iSCSI equipment (in general) offers a more favorable ROI when the costs of infrastructure, installation, and training are taken into consideration.
Training and Deployment Savings with iSCSI as Well
It seems that enterprises can save money with iSCSI (which is a good thing), but will it decrease the amount of time presently being spent on training and deployment? Greene believes that leveraging existing networking expertise and centralizing storage via iSCSI SANs will certainly reduce training and deployment expenses -- particularly those expenses related to traditional direct-attached storage management. "One of the long-term benefits of iSCSI is the potential savings of time and money that will be gained in being able to administer the network through existing LAN management tools," says Gulhati. Schott adds that iSCSI will reduce the amount of time now being spent on training and deployment because it not only uses standard networking technologies, but also has the broad support of iSCSI operating system vendors, switch vendors, and storage providers.
So back to the original question, is iSCSI still just a pipe dream, or has it finally arrived to the status of a mainstream technology? Gulhati seems to think that with its ease of interoperability, management, and administration, iSCSI certainly has the underpinnings of becoming a well-deployed mainstream technology. Schott believes that iSCSI has transitioned itself from a "promising vision" to a reliable technology with broad industry support. "This has occurred because of the completion of the standard, broad industry support of the standard, and a compelling value to customers who want to lower storage complexity and costs."
Most agree that iSCSI had to go through the normal evolution necessary to become an accepted standard. Greene says that before the specification was ratified, it was a platform for forward thinkers to access and incorporate into their medium range plans. However, once the standard was in place, he says, he began to see many of those early adopters moving forward aggressively, while the next round of technologists began to design iSCSI into their future architecture. "Their rate of adoption, based on customer feedback, which we expect to be very rapid, will determine when iSCSI becomes a mainstream component of IT infrastructure," he concludes.