Check out these affordable, high-performance network storage solutions

Executive Summary:
Many high-performance, low-cost iSCSI SAN products are now available for small-to-midsized businesses. iSCSI SANs provide consolidated storage for multiple servers and benefit from the Ethernet and iSCSI protocols.

Over the past few years, network storage product prices have dropped dramatically as performance and storage drive capacities have increased. Part of this growth is attributed to the continued success of the iSCSI storage protocol, which has been making inroads in the network storage market. According to IDC, the iSCSI SAN market is projected to top $5 billion by 2010.

Several factors are driving the growth in the adoption of iSCSI SANs, ranging from increased use of virtualization in the data center to a greater reliance on data-driven business environments that employ storage-hungry applications such as business intelligence (BI) and massive database applications. Hardware costs have also plummeted over the last few years, making enormous amounts of disk storage available for a fraction of what they formerly cost.

Because of those factors, a flood of high-performance, low-cost iSCSI SAN products are now available for smallto- midsized businesses (SMBs). Our buyer’s guide can help you choose the right iSCSI SAN for your organization. Affordability is an important factor for SMBs, so none of the products listed in this buyer’s guide exceeds $15,000.

Why Implement an iSCSI SAN?

What are the benefits of moving from DAS to an iSCSI SAN? DAS tends to be more difficult to manage as your IT infrastructure grows because it requires that local storage for each server be administered separately. DAS also doesn’t allow for common storage in a heterogeneous infrastructure, such as in environments that might have clients running Mac OS X or Linux in addition to Windows.

Until just a few years ago, the only way to realize the benefits of a SAN was to purchase a Fibre-Channel (FC) SAN. However, the high implementation and support costs of FC SANs kept most SMBs from implementing them. That all changed with the introduction of iSCSI SANs.

Like FC SANs, iSCSI SANs consolidate storage for multiple servers into one manageable resource. iSCSI SANs benefit from the simplicity and ubiquity of the Ethernet and iSCSI protocols, as well as the continuing drop in fixed-disk prices. When combined with network storage applications, such as Windows Storage Server 2003, iSCSI SANs emerge as viable network storage solutions for nearly all SMBs.

Things to Keep in Mind When Purchasing an iSCSI SAN

According to Joel Reich, general manager of NetApp’s SAN/iSAN business unit, purchasing an iSCSI SAN can be a straightforward process if you’re armed with the correct information. It’s important to do some extensive research to find a solution to meet your storage needs and important to decide how your iSCSI SAN will be deployed.

Cover as much of your organization as possible. When it comes to buying storage, Reich suggests that you try to find an iSCSI SAN that will cover as much of your infrastructure as possible. Remember, only the parts of your infrastructure that have access to your iSCSI SAN will realize the benefits of having a speedy, redundant SAN.

Shop for scalability. Although buying adequate amounts of storage for your current situation is important, Reich explains that you don’t necessarily need to follow the conventional wisdom that advises administrators to “buy as much storage as you can afford.” Choosing an iSCSI SAN that’s scalable enough to respond to the growing needs of your business is a better approach, according to Reich. “The system you choose should allow you to easily add capacity and performance over time. Not all businesses have million- dollar IT budgets … it’s important to have a system that allows you to pay as you grow.”

Leverage your Microsoft investment. Reich says that Microsoft has helped drive the adoption of SAN storage options, including iSCSI SANs, with applications such as SQL Server and Exchange that use block storage protocols. iSCSI is a block storage protocol, but NAS doesn’t support block storage. Given the proven interoperability between Windows applications and iSCSI, Reich says that businesses running many Windows applications will find iSCSI SAN storage to work well with their existing infrastructure.

Buy for the Future

Choosing and deploying an iSCSI SAN that can easily be expanded to accommodate your future needs and requirements is important. For example, is reducing power consumption (and related energy costs) a growing concern for your business? If so, choose an iSCSI SAN with a largecapacity drive, which tends to provide a more efficient watts-per-terabyte power-consumption ratio. If network performance is important, look for an iSCSI SAN that includes support for the upcoming (and much faster) 10Gbps Ethernet standard. And if the ability to easily add storage in the future is at the top of your must-have list, be sure to look for an iSCSI SAN that lets you easily hot-add and hot-swap new disk storage. When armed with the right information and the best iSCSI SAN for your specific environment, you can enjoy the affordable benefits of NAS storage for years to come.

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