iSCSI SAN Business Case

 I just spent my entire week at the Burton Group Catalyst conference in San Diego, California (www.burtongroup.com). Burton Group has the best industry analysts and researchers in security, identity management, virtualization and the SAN industry.

The number of Virtualization Hypervisor vendors vying for position is exciting. Clearly VMware is in the lead and the immediate safe bet for credit unions. However, with the purchase of Xen Source by Citrix there is no doubt that Citrix is going to be a major player with their XenApp server. Virtualization is here to stay for many reasons, but for credit unions the major areas of impact are:

  • Cost savings stemming from data center server consolidation;
  • Compliance – Disaster Recovery accomplished with server mobility and portability that a virtual infrastructure brings;
  • Ease of desktop management using VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure);

I really don’t think that Fiber Channel SANs should be even considered for credit unions unless they have a legacy investment in Fiber Channel technology. iSCSI SAN technology is necessary for credit unions to really take advantage of the compliance and disaster recovery benefits of virtualization. Credit Unions today need the following to build a business case for an iSCSI SAN:

  • Easy administration;
  • Supportable with current IT staff and current IT skills;
  • Scalable for production virtualization and DR needs;
  • Affordability;

What are the benefits of an iSCSI SAN?

  • Runs over the current TCP/IP Ethernet network;
  • Reduces network infrastructure costs by reusing existing infrastructure;
  • Uses generic 1GB NICs and switches;
  • Reduces SAN complexity and increases manageability;
  • Reduces cabling costs;
  • Reduces outside integration support;
  • Increases Disaster Recovery options by using routable TCP/IP technology and there are no distance topology restrictions;
  • Leverages existing network services in QoS, DNS, VPN and MPLS investment;
  • Leverages more of the current in-house credit union IT staff talent;

The big argument from FC fiber channel SAN vendors is that iSCSI is not as fast as FC. This is true, but is irrelevant unless you are a $3 billion or larger credit union. In my opinion credit unions worth $200 million to $3 billion in assets will not strain iSCSI to the point that this is even an issue.

There are ways to make iSCSI faster if needed: software initiators, TOE NIC adaptors and iSCSI HBA. See the Chris Wolf site for more great information (www.chriswolf.com). www.virtualization.info also includes good virtualization and iSCSI information as well. 

Credit unions that have an existing investment in FC SAN will want to protect this investment. Soon you will be able to bridge your iSCSI SAN to your FC SAN using the protocol FCoE (Fiber Channel over Ethernet) but this protocol and the bridge gateway switches needed to do this have not yet matured.

Let me know what you think.

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