In a sign of the growing importance of IP networked storage the SNIA has elected new leaders to an IP Storage Forum and outlined an activity program.

The IP Storage Forum (IPSF) is composed of leading computer, data storage and data management vendors as well as resellers dedicated to providing the IT community with vendor-neutral information, education and exposure to IP-based SAN storage technologies. The IPSF governing board for 2007 consists of: chair, David Dale of Network Appliance; vice chair, Prasad Pammidimukkala of Brocade; treasurer, Doug Rainbolt of Alacritech; marketing director, Robbin Higby of EqualLogic; and business development director, Don Mead of FalconStor Software.

IP storage, also known as iSCSI, refers to the provision of block-based storage area networks (SANs) accessed by TCP/IP over Ethernet instead of the traditional - and more expensive - Fibre Channel SANS, requiring dedicated switches and directors in a Fibre Channel fabric, together with host bus adapters for every accessing server.

IP storage promises cost-savings because it uses lower-cost Ethernet cables and network interface cards. It has been judged to be unreliable and slow by many Fibre Channel SAN vendors. These views have moderated as IP storage experience shows them to be false.

EMC's Chuck Hollis, VP of technology alliances, recently discussed IP SANs in his blog. He was not impressed at shipment growth rates: "If I’m interpreting the IDC numbers correctly, in the first three quarters of 2006, $369 million of iSCSI arrays were sold. EMC (including Dell OEM) had #1 share with 24.2 percent. The market grew at 96 percent ... But that pales in comparison with the roughly $6.5 billion of non-iSCSI based SAN storage sold during the same period, the vast majority of which is FC. Put differently, iSCSI is about 5 percent of the overall SAN storage array market."

"I think it’s safe to say – iSCSI hasn’t cracked the big time: large enterprises that – in total – spend several billion dollars a year on FC-related technologies. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change in the near future."

Many suppliers and storage research organisations disagree. IDC, for example, views iSCSI as the fastest-growing area of the storage market - with an expected 73 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for 2006-2010, and the market reaching $5.1B in 2010

The Enterprise Strategy Group estimates there are more than 25,000 customer deployments of iSCSI-based SANs worldwide. Tony Asaro, an ESG senior analyst, said:

“It is our view that iSCSI has entered the early mainstream. We recently completed research that surveyed 511 IT end user companies of all sizes and industries. 17 percent had adopted iSCSI and another 20 percent planned to implement within the next 12 to 24 months. Combined, this represents 37 percent of the total respondents. We see this as real validation that iSCSI is a viable alternative to Fibre Channel, that early adopters claim is less expensive and much easier to manage. We believe that the iSCSI momentum is unstoppable.”

The rise of IP Storage will not cause Fiibre Channel SAN replacement though, because legacy installed bases are pretty hard to shift. EMC's Hollis put it like this: "One customer made it very clear to me though an analogy. “Yes, let’s assume that Macs are better. We’re just not going to swap out 10,000 PC users.”"

IP Storage will co-exist alongside Fibre Channel SANS in the market, providing mid-range and low-end SAN storage facilities where Fibre Channel is too expensive for what it delivers. Hollis said in his blog: "I believe that further cost reductions in 10Gbit Ethernet technology will encourage people to take another look at an alternative to FC. Once it starts becoming standard on server motherboards, and port costs come down to near where 1Gbit technology is today, the discussion will open up again."

The IPSF activity programme includes end-user education through seminars, SNIA tutorials, industry events, and hands-on demonstrations. The Forum will continue to create fact sheets, contributed articles, deployment case studies, and technology positioning materials. The IPSF website now features an IP Storage Product Showcase and an IP Storage Solutions Directory.