SANtastic: The Rise of IP SANs in the Midmarket

Confronted with surging storage needs, midmarket CIOs are increasingly turning to networked storage, particularly IP SANs. Most execs give them rave reviews -- with the occasional performance caveat.

This is what it had come to: the IT director's personal hard drive.

That's what Bill Snow was using to create more storage space for electronic documents such as blueprints, drawings and legal forms at construction firm Moss & Associates. As he moved data from the company's direct-attached storage (DAS) system to his own computer to free up storage space, he knew there had to be a better way.

"Each project has a ton of data," Snow explains. "Imagine 20 file boxes for each project." The Fort Lauderdale firm has lots of projects, too, with business this year expected to triple its 2005 level of $750 million.

To make room for this rapidly expanding document stockpile, Moss & Associates purchased a storage area network (SAN) in May. The technology behind it: a hybrid system using both the traditional networked storage technology (Fibre Channel) and the feisty newcomer, IP.

Indeed, as many midmarket companies look to network their storage or add a lower-cost option, IP SAN technology seems the obvious choice. IP SANs are data networks that combine the Internet Protocol with the SCSI storage protocol to carry data traffic over standard Ethernet networks. In storage parlance, the technology is known as iSCSI (pronounced i-SKUH-zee).

Using common network hardware and standards-based components, as well as a protocol familiar to every network engineer today, IP SANs boast some advantages in terms of cost, ease of use and scalability -- to a point. And the ubiquity of IP networks makes it possible to extend or connect IP SANs worldwide.

"ISCSI is definitely ready for prime time," says James Tarala, CIO of Schenck Business Solutions, a 500-person accounting firm based in Appleton, Wis., that replaced a Fibre Channel system with iSCSI in 2003. "We've used and abused it for several years, and it's been flawless. Anyone that knows Ethernet can manage this storage."

This was first published in September 2006

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