According to Dell’Oro Group, the second half of 2009 saw a surge in 10Gb Ethernet (10GbE) adoptions — and they and other analysts see that growth continuing this year and beyond.
Indeed, according to a recent Forrester Consulting survey, the number one storage networking purchase enterprise storage decision makers said they expect to make in the next 12 months is 10GbE switching and related components and software for data storage traffic. And storage vendors have been busy looking to capitalize on this trend.
The question is, who stands to benefit the most from 10GbE, and what does 10GbE and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) mean established storage protocols like iSCSI and network attached storage (NAS) and the companies that rely on them?
The Case for iSCSI
Talk to the folks at Dell (NASDAQ: DELL), in particular the EqualLogic crew, and they will point to the fact that the iSCSI market was up — way up — last year, despite all the early hype around FCoE. Moreover, Dell says it sees no sign of that growth slowing this year, especially as more companies of all sizes turn to virtualization.
“Historically, iSCSI has focused on the SMB [small and mid-sized business] market, and it’s resonated there,” explained Travis Vigil, senior manager for Dell EqualLogic. “A lot of those customers didn’t have Fibre Channel infrastructure, and iSCSI offered an easy way to get the benefits of consolidated storage without having to invest in costly equipment or a specific workforce that had those skills.”
And while SMBs continue to be the largest market for iSCSI, “what we’ve seen this last year is that a lot of larger customers started to look much more seriously at iSCSI, specifically in virtualized environments,” said Vigil, who added that larger enterprises accounted for much of EqualLogic’s strong sales this past year.
As to whether iSCSI sales would be helped or hurt by 10GbE and FCoE, he believed the growth of iSCSI was “only going to accelerate with the introduction of technologies like 10GbE and data center bridging,” he said. “Ten gigabit Ethernet and data center bridging benefit iSCSI as much as they benefit FCoE.”
In fact, he sees iSCSI having an advantage over FCoE, at least for a while, because unlike FCoE, iSCSI can run at 1GbE, “which will continue to be a large portion of the Ethernet market for the next three to five years.”
According to the Forrester survey (which was commissioned by Dell), when asked the question “Which of the following protocols do you think is best suited for supporting Unified Fabric or convergence between LAN and SAN, 10GB iSCSI, FCoE, 1GB iSCSI, or NFS [NAS]?” the majority of respondents — 56 percent — answered “10GB iSCSI,” with FCoE in second place with 27 percent.
Other storage vendors, including Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), EMC (NYSE: EMC) and NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP), don’t see iSCSI going away any time soon either.
“We continue to see a lot of customers who have direct attached storage [DAS] who want to move to networked storage, and iSCSI is a great option for that due to the cost effectiveness of iSCSI,” said Michael McNamara, a senior manager in NetApp’s SAN division.
Moreover, for companies that rely heavily on Microsoft SQL and Exchange and use block-based protocols, “iSCSI is very apropos,” McNamara said, especially for mid-tier enterprises. And because iSCSI is supported on 1GbE as well as 10GbE, and is routable, whereas FCoE only works on 10GbE and is not routable (at least today), McNamara, like Vigil, doesn’t see iSCSI going anywhere, except into more enterprises, in the immediate future.
The Case for Network Attached Storage
According to Ingo Fuchs, senior product marketing manager for NAS at NetApp, as long as enterprises need to store files, there will be a need — and a market — for NAS.
“NAS is a perfect fit for file-based, unstructured content repositories,” Fuchs stated. “NAS is the established way to get to those contents.”
As for the effect of 10GbE on NAS, Fuchs sees 10GbE helping the NAS market, particularly with all the server virtualization companies are undertaking.
“One of the key trends in data centers today is the growth of virtualized computing environments,” he said. “And that’s helping NAS, as well as iSCSI.”
The Emergence of FCoE
Like Dell’s Vigil and NetApp’s McNamara and Fuchs, Cisco Director of Product Management Rajeev Bhardwaj sees a continued role for iSCSI and NAS. However, Cisco sees FCoE “playing an increasingly important role” as more data centers migrate to 10GbE.
“The benefits of FCoE are obvious within the rack,” he stated. “Instead of having many physical connections coming over a server, you can consolidate and have fewer connections ... less infrastructure and fewer cables,” he explained, meaning less space and power are consumed, two huge benefits.
Also, for customers that had already made an investment in Fibre Channel, FCoE just makes sense, Bhardwaj argued.
NetApp’s McNamara agreed.
“We see the [FCoE] customer as really being the traditional Fibre Channel SAN customer,” said McNamara, “because they can reuse a lot of the investment they already have in their Fibre Channel infrastructure, as well as use that skill set.
“One of the nice things with FCoE is that the storage management piece does not change when you go from traditional Fibre Channel to Fibre Channel running over Ethernet,” McNamara said. “So customers today who are using Fibre Channel SANs for their database environments or virtualization environments, those are the ones who are likely candidates to move to FCoE.”
Even Dell, despite its substantial investment in iSCSI, sees potential — and sales — in FCoE, hence its coming out with a line of FCoE adapters for its servers late last year, “so that our customers that have a large installed base of Fibre Channel can bridge into that legacy investment,” said Vigil. But he was quick to add that Dell (or at least the EqualLogic team) sees FCoE as “a transitional technology, a bridging technology,” with iSCSI being “a better choice ... if you really want to experience the benefits of converged fabric today.”
Network Convergences Means Not Having to Choose
In response to a question on Twitter asking “Which protocol — FCoE, iSCSI or NAS — has the most to gain or lose in light of 10GbE,” Stuart Miniman, a technologist at EMC, responded, “all 3 have their space. FCoE gets started w/10GbE; NAS & iSCSI continue.”
He is far from alone in that sentiment.
“That question, which poses these things [FCoE, iSCSI and NAS] as mutually exclusive alternatives, is misleading,” said Bob Nusbaum, software product line manager at Cisco. "It’s like asking ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ The bottom is: you don’t have to pick anymore. You wire once and run them all, and use whichever one meets the needs of a particular application. That’s the whole beauty of unification: you don’t have to choose.”
Added his colleague Bhardwaj, “my crystal ball tells me that there is a need for multi-protocol storage networking in the data center, because it provides customers with flexibility; it provides them with choice; and it reduces their business risk. There’s a need for multi-protocol storage networking, be it file, be it block, [be it NAS,] be it iSCSI, be it FCoE.”
And there will continue to be a need for multiple storage protocols for at least the next couple of years, the experts agreed.
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