META: 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 and, while it is considered less expensive, as well
as easier to deploy and manage, may storage experts agree that rooting out
ingrained Fibre Channel architectures will be difficult in large
enterprises. Accordingly, many analysts see iSCSI as gathering steam 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 internetnews.com.


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.

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 part of a SAN, but do not have
the ability to function as one.


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.”


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 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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