Slow; that's the state of the iSCSI market. It's seductive enough, the idea of using existing and well-understood and easily managed LAN infrastructure for SANs. Get away from expensive Fibre Channel fabrics with costly components and extra management burdens. But by the time you have added in the need for TOEs - TCP/IP offload engine chips added to the iSCSI NICs, and the point that lower cost Fibre Channel is coming then iSCSI SANs have not rocketed off the starting line.

We have suppliers like Intel muddying the waters too, saying TOEs aren't necessary because it's going to upgrade the application end-to-end storage process with better and integrated components.

QLogic's Skip Jones is director for planning and technology. He draws a picture of the place for iSCSI that is simple and direct and may be compelling; but it's not for me to say if it's compelling. The market will decide that. Skip says that iSCSI won't appeal to enterprise users; "90 percent of the Fortune 1000 already have Fibre Channel SANs. The growth is down market."

For iSCSI, he says: "The big thing is ease of use; plug-and-play. People will pay for it, will buy a 'no headaches' product."

What about Intel's assertion that IO/AT removes the need for TOEs?

"We belive that's false. We're number one in iSCSI for design wins. For example, Network Appliance has qualified QLogic iSCSI gear. We don't get a lot of purchase orders because iSCSI hasn't taken off yet."

Why hasn't it taken off? Because iSCSI products have been aimed at a market that doesn't exist; dedicated iSCSI SANS.

Dedicated iSCSI isn't the market
"If you have a dedicated iSCSI SAN there is no cost benefit, and it's riskier because it's newer. So use Fibre Channel."

"But iSCSI at the SMB end of the market is the single net. This is where iSCSI is getting the traction; a single converged net." The iSCSI market entry will be block storage in low-end “single” network applications using DAS/NAS currently.

The idea here is that an existing LAN providing application/server access to clients will have storage traffic layered on to it. The servers will access their particular storage pot in a shared pool of storage accessed over the same Ethernet infrastructure.

The medium and smaller enterprises will use one LAN for both application-client and application-storage traffic. But they can't afford to lock up their servers with TCP processing: "They don't have free processors. They need offload to use their servers for applications. TOEs make more sense in the lower end where you're sharing a single net."

A TOE NIC will cost more but you get the server-relieving TOE functionality: "A TOE NIC costs $100 more than a standard NIC. But you are using one rather than having two separate nets."

Jones thinks that Fibre Channel and iSCSI SANs will co-exist. It will be Fibre Channel for enterprise SANs and iSCSI for SMB SANs, with an overlap in the mid-range area.

WIndows Servers and wizards
They also don't want to know about SAN complexity: "They don't want to know what SAN stands for." He cites QLogic's SANbox 3000 as an easy-to-install iSCSI SAN: "There's a configuration wizard. SANsurfer software is a great management tool and very simple. You don't have to know what a LUN is. You should never have to 'crack open the hood'."

SANsurfer VDS Manager makes use of Microsoft's Virtual Disk Services in Windows Server 2003. Microsoft only offers a command line interface for its VDS management. QLogic has added its wizard-based SANsurfer software to improve this.

In effect, installing a iSCSI SAN has to be as simple as, say, installing shared external drive arrays. The storage network infrastructure will be straightforward so you can use software wizards to install it with well thought-out default values. This approach reduces the number of decisions need to install the iSCSI SAN and greatly reduces installation complexity. Installation in less than five mouse clicks should be possible.

Jones says a 4-stage installation process is involved: "Select the storage system. Select the attributes. Assign to a server. Click finish - you're done."

The HP way
HP offers its StorageWorks Modular Smart Array 1000. This is a small business SAN kit built in collaboration with QLogic. It is claimed to be an end-to-end packaged SAN with all the components you need in one box. Jack Fegreus, technology director for Strategic Communications, writes: "HP is able to offer a complete end-to-end SAN kit that can go from 'in box' to 'in operation' in less than 45 minutes."