Midmarket Storage Finds The Right Fit

In the past, Fibre Channel storage networks were the way to go. However, with the emergence of iSCSI (IP-based) storage networks, solution providers have a wider variety of ways to meet their midmarket customers&' storage needs.

But how does a solution provider choose between Fibre Channel and iSCSI solutions?

Integrators have a variety of ideas, but all agree that neither technology is going anywhere any time soon.

“We don&'t see those as competing technologies. They&'re complimentary technologies, and it&'s quite common for us to put both in the same account,” said George Crump, president of SANZ, a storage and data management solution provider based in Englewood, Colo.

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Crump recommends iSCSI typically where performance is not going to be the overriding issue. “That generally is going to be on Windows patched databases and mail servers,” he said.

Fibre Channel, on the other hand, has a higher bandwidth and can handle higher workflows. However, “most people can&'t get the performance out of Fibre Channel that it can deliver, so iSCSI is perfectly practical in those situations,” Crump said.

Eryck Bredy, president of Bredy Network Management, Woburn, Mass., said he leans toward Fibre Channel. “Generally, it&'s preferred to recommend normal Fibre [Channel], just because it&'s a more mature technology. It&'s a better-performing technology, and there&'s much more of a comfort level,” he said.

“ISCSI is for the more price-sensitive customers, toward the SMB marketplace. We like both solutions. The iSCSI [technology] has come a long way, and we feel that right now—I won&'t say it&'s on parity with traditional SCSI—but it&'s a question of cost-effectiveness vs. robustness,” Bredy said. “Cost tends to be more of a sticking point if you have a customer that&'s about to make their first foray into SAN technology.”

Joy Smith, account executive at Alliance Technology Group, Hanover, Md., agrees that each technology has its place—sometimes in the same solution. “I&'d say that it&'s more appropriate to sell an iSCSI solution when there isn&'t going to be a massive amount of growth in the customer&'s environment,” she said. “Basically bandwidth is going to be the biggest issue. Do they have applications that need a fatter pipe? If they do, Fibre Channel is going to be a better solution.”

Assessing a customer&'s plans for future growth is critical to picking the right solution, Smith said.

“It really does depend on how the customer&'s environment is set up. What they expect their growth to be as well,” she said. “The last thing most folks want to do is rip out their storage network. Figuring out if you&'re going to position an all-iSCSI or an all-Fibre Channel solution, you really need to be sure you have a handle on what their growth is going to be.”

Smith said she also cautions that solution providers must double-check that all of the components of an iSCSI solution are compatible and that the parts have been certified to work together because the standards of iSCSI are not yet as defined as Fibre Channel. “In Fibre Channel, [we&'re] all speaking the same standard. Ramifications of putting those things together in an environment aren&'t that great,” Smith said. “In the iSCSI world, that isn&'t necessarily the case.”

John Howard, principal and vice president of sales at Boston Computers and Peripherals, Sharon, Mass., agrees that the customer&'s environment is key to choosing the right fit.

“When you start to talk to a midrange company with maybe a dozen servers and a mix and match between SQL and Oracle databases, you&'re going to have a need and a place for iSCSI, and I think if their business demands an immediate response—in other words, [if] they have a high-hit database—they&'re really going to need Fibre Channel to run that,” Howard said.

“I would not sit and recommend a Fibre Channel solution for someone who said, ‘I want to have a RAID array and direct-to-disk backup.&' That&'s perfect for iSCSI. It&'s really a matter of need and performance,” Howard said.

In either case, maintaining a level of expertise on both technologies can help storage solution providers stay in business.

“The storage marketplace is still a marketplace where there&'s not a breadth of knowledge out there. That&'s why it&'s such a good value ad for solution providers,” Bredy said.