Q&A: It's Time To Capitalize On iSCSI Sales Opportunities
In this exclusive Web-only extended version of this story, vendor experts answer questions that can help VARs identify and close iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface) storage sales opportunities.
IP (Internet Protocol)-based storage solutions such as iSCSI (Internet small computer system interface) continue to gain momentum in all types of businesses. Some industry analysts have even predicted that 2008 will be a breakout year for IP-based storage. There are definitely hot sales opportunities here for VARs. That being said, do you know why IP-based storage is more cost-effective than Fibre Channel (FC)? Do you know how to position IP-based storage versus other technologies such as FC? Can you effectively explain the differences in those technologies to your customers? Four storage industry experts recently took time to help answer those questions (and more) for you.
What are the differences between IP/iSCSI-based storage and FC?
Bob Skelley, VP of worldwide channels, EqualLogic: Compared with traditional FC networking for SANs (storage area networks), iSCSI-based storage networking represents a more simplified and cost-effective means of attaching servers to networked storage and managing that storage. IP is a very mature protocol and is understood by most IT people and VARs. There is almost no knowledge-based barrier to entry for VARs or customers.
Jay Kramer, VP worldwide marketing, iStor Networks, Inc.: For the last four decades, conventional storage has been a direct channel attachment of a disk array to a specific file server via SCSI or to a storage network with FC. iSCSI creates a shared storage environment with any — to any connectivity whereby any server with security privileges can get access to any storage. This storage abstraction from servers on an IP network has many advantages for the customer such as greater scalability, higher availability, accelerated performance, optimization of total disk capacity utilization, and increased productivity in managing storage resources. This storage abstraction from servers on an IP network has many advantages for the customer such as the following:
Greater scalability. The total storage resources can be shared and allocated to any specific server or application that needs increased capacity. In contrast, customers using conventional direct-attached configurations are limited to how much storage they can connect to a specific server before they have to buy another server just to add more storage. With iSCSI, storage can scale on the network independently from the server resources.
High-availability. Should a server failure occur with conventional direct attached storage, access to that storage is unavailable until that server is repaired. With iSCSI, storage can be reconfigured to another server and provide access and availability to that storage independent of a specific server failure.
Accelerated performance. Conventional direct-attached storage configurations typically utilize a single channel for storage attachment to a given server. iSCSI provides a network for attachment of storage, and as an example, iStor provides 8 ports of 1GbE connectivity to the storage system. These multiple ports can take advantage of link aggregation groups (LAG), multiple connections per session (MCS), and multipath I/O (MPIO) which can provide accelerated performance, high-availability failover, and deliver QoS (quality of service) to meet customer service level objectives.
Optimization of total disk capacity utilization. Typical customers of conventional direct-attached storage implementations are at 40% to 60% storage utilization when they are buying new storage. This is because available storage from one server is not configurable to another server. iSCSI provides an architecture that facilitates storage virtualization or pooling of the storage resources so they can be provisioned to the server or application that needs the capacity. iSCSI implementations typically exceed 80% capacity utilization and gain significantly greater optimization of the storage investment.
Increased productivity in managing storage resources. Historically, customers had an even split between OpEx (operating expenses) and CapEx (capital expenses) of an overall IT budget. As customers grow storage capacity, the conventional direct-attached storage model requires increased IT operational resources to manage. With server and storage proliferation, it is not unusual to see OpEx exceed 75% of the IT budget. iSCSI creates a consolidated shared storage model that enables a given storage administrator to manage greater capacities with increased productivity and the ability to significantly reduce operational costs.
Kim Tchang, VP of marketing, SANRAD: There are three basic categories of storage: direct-attached storage (DAS), network attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN). DAS is storage directly attached to one computer or server and is not, without special support, directly shareable. NAS is a specialized file server that connects to the network. A NAS device contains a slimmed-down operating system and a file system and processes I/O requests by supporting popular file sharing protocols, primarily CIFS (Common Internet File System) for Windows and NFS (network file system) for Unix. A SAN is a network of storage disks arrays and connects multiple servers to a centralized pool of storage. Two of the most prevalent types of connectivity for SANs are FC and iSCSI. FC SANs are dedicated, closed-storage networks that attach storage to servers via FC switches and host bus adapters. iSCSI is an IP-based storage networking standard for linking data storage facilities. Because of the ubiquity of IP networks, iSCSI can be used to transmit data over LANs, WANs (wide area networks), or the Internet providing location-independent data storage and retrieval.
Sajai Krishnan, GM, StoreVault Division, Network Appliance: iSCSI represents a new way for VARs to use IP to provide storage connectivity without the expense and complication of FC. iSCSI storage connectivity is less expensive than FC because it does not require expensive FC adapters, cabling, and switches. iSCSI is less complex and easier to manage than FC. Most VARs already have the skill sets in place to provide storage connectivity via iSCSI, since they have been working with Ethernet networks for quite some time. All of these factors combine to make iSCSI far more cost-effective than FC.
Why are customers implementing IP-based/iSCSI storage solutions?
Skelley: Ease of use, cost effectiveness, and great support for server virtualization projects are the major reasons customers are installing iSCSI SAN products. VMware deployments also are a huge business driver for iSCSI SAN purchases. This can translate into faster sales cycles and project cycles for VARs.
Kramer: iSCSI is an attractive way to scale storage capacity while not requiring advanced knowledge of FC operations to install and manage these resources. Storage virtualization projects also are a catalyst for iSCSI. As IT budgets for 2008 are relatively flat, customers need more effective ways, such as iSCSI, to reduce storage management costs.
Tchang: The reasons include better economics, simplified management, robust disaster recovery, and non-disruptive data migration. These benefits are especially evident with intelligent switches that leverage iSCSI for integrated storage management services. The open architecture of network-based intelligent switches enable them to manage and virtualize any storage system while performing critical tasks such as data backup, migration, and disaster recovery nondisruptively.
Krishnan: The most prominent applications for iSCSI are Exchange, SQL, and VMware. Since these applications all operate at the block level (data is organized by the applications, not by the storage device), they are perfect for iSCSI storage.
Is IP/iSCSI storage displacing other types of storage such as Fibre Channel?
Skelley: Yes, it definitely is in many midmarket or SME (small and medium enterprises) organizations. But, the greater opportunity is for greenfield networked storage implementations where DAS is bound by the limitations of its physical chassis. This isn't just true for SMEs — it's also true for departmental applications within Fortune 1000 companies. Many customers choose iSCSI SANs because they're afraid of the cost and complexity of FC that they've experienced or heard about. They are surprised to learn that iSCSI can perform just as well if not better for heavy business workloads like SQL databases or Exchange services.
Kramer: In most cases, iSCSI storage is supplementing DAS in situations where an FC SAN was not economically viable. Customers see the value of a SAN architecture and customers who are not currently using FC are selecting iSCSI as their technology of choice for storage additions due to its advantages of attractive overall price-per-GB and simplicity of operations. FC customers have been looking for ways to cost-effectively expand their SAN connectivity to their server complex, and iSCSI is a very compelling alternative.
Tchang: The growth of the iSCSI market is not about displacement, but rather coexistence. Both FC and iSCSI storage will continue to be integral parts of storage infrastructures for many years. FC will continue to be a major force within large enterprises, since many have made investments in the hardware, tools, and knowledge to support FC.
Krishnan: iSCSI storage is stopping the penetration of FC in the SMB market. Despite the 'simple SAN' efforts of many vendors in the FC industry, FC never really took root in those markets. So, it's not so much a matter of replacing FC in these markets, it's more of a greenfield opportunity for VARs. There's really no reason to consider FC in the SMB space.
Is iSCSI purely a cost-savings play for customers, or are there other benefits to be gained?
Skelley: There are a lot of benefits of simplified iSCSI storage beyond cost. When thinking about the total costs of storage deployment or an application upgrade like a migration to Exchange 2007, major factors like the cost and time for training IT staff and or the expense of professional services should be considered. What we know is that customers would rather pay their trusted advisors for training or installation services for their business applications and not for basic configuration of storage. Incidentally, that leaves more money for customers to spend on value add services from VARs, services such as disaster recovery solution implementation, backup and recovery, and data migration.
Beyond cost, the simplicity of networking an iSCSI SAN versus an FC SAN is significant. Any IT professional with a working knowledge of IP networks and a few best practices from a capable iSCSI vendor or VAR can shave days to weeks off of typical SAN deployment times. And, they can manage and change their SAN environments themselves.
One little known benefit is that iSCSI storage can be deployed in a more reliably secure fashion than FC. With basic VLANs (virtual LANs), server IP address restrictions, and mutual CHAP (challenge-handshake authentication protocol) authentication, companies can get better security than what is the norm for FC, largely because security configurations in a FC environment are usually complex and thus error-prone, so some companies don't use them effectively.
Kramer: Cost is the biggest benefit. As customers are scaling their storage capacity, they need a cost effective way to manage those assets. However, SAN offers other advantages beyond cost for an overall information strategy. The huge market momentum toward server virtualization has become a 'killer app' for IP SAN and a movement toward storage virtualization. It is all about consolidating the data center and the customer movement to server virtualization leads to a natural progression of investing in a shared storage model. The customer then benefits by any-to-any connectivity of servers to storage and getting greater optimization out of the server and storage resources.
Tchang: iSCSI delivers other benefits beyond just cost savings. With iSCSI, customers also benefit from simplicity and the ability to leverage their existing infrastructure. IP networks are ubiquitous, making it easy to build an iSCSI SAN.
Customers also gain additional benefits when using intelligent storage switches with integrated storage services to implement a SAN. Because of the open architecture of intelligent switches, customers can use any storage (FC or iSCSI) to virtualize and manage their storage pools. This translates into savings as companies can leverage existing storage investments while benefiting from the complete flexibility to mix and match the storage systems needed to serve the specific performance and costs needs across the enterprise.
Krishnan: The lower cost of iSCSI versus FC is definitely a key selling point for customers. Simplicity is another great benefit for customers. iSCSI also gives customers more choices of VARs, since most networking VARs already have the experience needed to install and maintain iSCSI. Training costs are also reduced for both VARs and customers.
What kind of opportunities exist for VARs in the iSCSI storage space?
Skelley: The market opportunity is huge. There is a very large installed base of servers that rely on DAS and present management challenges for IT staffs. Enterprise Strategy Group says that 90% of servers in enterprises aren't SAN-attached. In the mid-market, the majority of FC SAN implementations can be capped and new growth can be accomplished with iSCSI. That is a massive opportunity for server and storage consolidation with iSCSI and virtual server technology. In the midmarket, the vast majority of FC SAN implementations can be capped, and new growth can be attained with iSCSI.
Kramer: VARs play a vital role in the education of customers about their choices when evaluating new investments in storage solutions. The role of the VAR has changed from purely looking at the total capacity requirement to one of selecting the most optimal storage technology to meet customer objectives. As customers continue to increase their investment in storage, VARs can capitalize on the business opportunities by being full-service solution providers for network storage — packaging iSCSI storage array systems, network switches, storage management, and data protection software along with implementation and ongoing support services.
Tchang: Huge opportunities exist for VARs in the iSCSI storage space, and they are all tied to the fast growing demand for killer applications such as server virtualization and disaster recovery. Opportunity growth can be seen in enterprises of all sizes from the SMB to the Fortune 1000.
Krishnan: This is a huge opportunity for resellers. There are many file servers with DAS in operation that are five or six years-old. When customers look to replace those servers, VARs have a great opportunity to introduce the benefits of iSCSI. Many of those customers will be looking to virtualize those new file servers with VMware — another great fit for iSCSI storage solutions. This is truly a horizontal sales opportunity for VARs. The demand for iSCSI is strong across all vertical markets.
What specific sales advice can you give VARs that are selling IP/iSCSI-based storage?
Skelley: Demo. Demo. Demo. If your customers aren't wowed by the iSCSI product you're putting in front of them, work with your vendor to improve your demonstration by partnering on sales visits, or find a better SAN.
Don't try to sell iSCSI as 'disk-by-the-pound' to compete with 'heavy' discounting. Larger vendors will low-ball on hardware or disk costs, but won't include all the software and vendor-sourced professional services that are necessary for a successful deployment of their products. Snapshots, replication, management software, and server licensing (if it's charged) all need to be accounted for. The VAR should be adept at presenting a solution with total cost of ownership to uncover all the hidden costs typical in a FC SAN product.
Kramer: Listen first to the needs of the customer. Select the vendor of iSCSI solutions based on more than surface level criteria such as the biggest company or the most recognized brand name because the next wave of storage leaders are going to come from companies with the most innovative technology at superior levels of price and performance.
Tchang: Sell more than just the low cost of iSCSI. Sell the killer apps which are closely coupled with storage needs, such as storage virtualization to complement the customer's virtual server environment, disaster recovery, and non-disruptive data migration. Positioning iSCSI as the enabler of these applications will increase the ongoing sales potential for VARs.
Krishnan: Don't underestimate the performance of iSCSI. FC vendors and VARs will position iSCSI as performing poorer than FC, but iSCSI's performance is more than enough for most SAN applications. Also, make sure to position iSCSI as a secure technology. Finally, don't limit your sales efforts of iSCSI to just SMBs — it is also effective for departments of enterprises as well.