Intransa is what is called an emerging company. It is a startup that has started and is growing. It makes IP SAN systems. Sitting in Intransa's HQ is Doug Rainbolt, VP global marketing, and he thinks iSCSI SANS are inevitable. Fibre Channel SANs are expensive and represent the network that got away. Other networking has gone IP. Storage networking has not.
The result is the opposite of 'Ethernet economics' with expensive and proprietary fabric boxes and expensive ports. The boxes, Rainbolt says: "don't talk to each other very well."
Fibre Channel SAN deployment is affected by per-port costs and also, of course, by specific FC SAN management expertise costs. The spread of 4Gbit/s FC will increase the number of servers that can share a FC port on a switch, the 'fan-in'. This lowers the effective per-port cost.
IP SAN deployment will be accelerated by 10gig Ethernet. The per-port costs are lower than FC ports and the Ethernet routers, etc. have costs governed by Ethernet economics. The IP SAN management is also a subset of Ethernet management. There is far less need for specialised SAN management expertise. Rainbolt says: "FC SANS are very complex to administer."
Both infrastructure and management costs will be lower with IP SANs. But there is another cost-lowering aspect of IP SANs. Because of the bandwidth in 10Gig E the server fan-in rate might be as high as 8 servers to one IP SAN port. The fixed cost of the IP SAN is spread across more servers. Rainbolt says: "It's better asset utilisation."
This makes storage consolidation more cost-effective for medium-sized and smaller enterprises, ones who don't have SANS at all. They might have no FC SAN infrastructure at all, even though their data storage amounts are doubling per year like every one else.
They might be finding NAS too limited. So IP SANS might cause a wave of storage consolidation for SMBs. The better utilisation of storage through consolidation into an IP SAN may be an attractive saving to an SMB.
Intansa sees IP SAN taking off faster in Asia: "because there is no legacy on the Fibre Channel side. There isn't a Fibre Channel incumbency." In contrast IP SANs are only just taking off in Europe and America where FC SAN penetration in enterprises is widespread. This lack of FC incumbency might also be true of eastern Europe and IP Storage growth may be faster there than in the USA and western Europe.
Intransa sees a need for high-performance IP SANS with highly-protected data, RAID 10 for example. The company will also introduce a lower-cost, value IP SAN line in October, which will offer just RAID 5 protection. The company's StorControl Management software will be a common management facility across these two SAN lines. According to Rainbolt: "StorControl is the crown jewels of Intransa. It represents about 70 percent of our intellectual property."
StorControl provides management virtualisation, snapshots, data mirroring and asynchronous replication. For Intransa the location for storage management intelligence is in the (IP) SAN fabric.
Its approach includes disks having their own IP addresses, via a controller hardware layer and enclosure added by Intransa. Rainbolt says: "A protocol called X-block sits between the disk and the enclosure." (This enables great scalability, according to Rainbolt. Also the front and back end of its IP SAN is all IP.)
In enterprises Intransa sees IP SANs being adopted also, because they enable more servers to share more storage. There will be a gateway to the Fibre Channel SAN. For management across both FC and IP SANs Rainbolt says: "We provide hooks for SMI-S so the Creekpaths, etc. of the world can manage us."
A difference between NetApp and Intransa is that: "We have IP throughout the network. We support up-front and back-side IP." NetApp, he says, does not.
We might speculate that IP SANs in the enterprise will appear as bubbles attached to the Fibre Channel core. These bubbles will spread and coalesce to form a doughnut ringing the Fibre Channel core. What happens after that is unclear. One possible outcome is the eventual disappearance of the Fibre Channel core.
Rainbolt joined Intransa from Brocade in April. What he thinks about the future of FC versus IP SANs has been shown by his foot-level voting.