FCoE no threat to iSCSI SAN makers, says LeftHand exec

Larry Cormier, vice president of worldwide marketing for LeftHand Networks, explains why FCoE is not a threat and why iSCSI SANs may be the killer app for server virtualisation.

With the number of server virtualisation projects increasing, iSCSI SANs just may be the killer app in storage, according to Larry Cormier, vice president of marketing for LeftHand Networks.

LeftHand has ridden high on a booming iSCSI SAN market, which rocketed last year and is expected to grow from $950m in 2007 to $4.4bn in 2012. The vendor has strategic agreements with the key names in virtualisation – VMware, Citrix and Microsoft -- and expects further momentum from VMware's desktop virtualisation push, which provides technology allowing individual workstations without local storage to be served with virtual machines and applications from the SAN in the data centre.

SearchStorageUK caught up with Cormier in London last week to discuss iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet and the current economic situation.

Everything is dynamic in virtualisation so you need virtual storage, and that's hard to do in Fibre Channel.
Larry Cormier
VP of marketingLefthand Networks

SearchStorageUK: How is the economic slowdown affecting the market for storage?

Cormier: We have not seen the economy affect storage purchasing so far. It may take longer for people to make buying decisions, but they're still buying and that's down to the rate of growth of data, which is still gathering pace. If anything, difficult economic times make iSCSI more attractive with its ability to reuse infrastructure and its lower cost per gig.

SearchStorageUK: What effect is server virtualisation having on iSCSI SANs?

Cormier: iSCSI is the killer app in storage as server virtualisation takes off. As people roll it out to a production environment, they need shared storage and iSCSI is easier and cheaper to install and maintain than Fibre Channel. It has to do with where the initiator lies and how it allows you to map volumes to the machine directly as opposed to mapping to the server. Because of this, the connection moves with machine.

In 2006, 80 percent of our sales were driven by Microsoft applications and 20 percent were driven by server virtualisation. That number has now flipped and we see more of our sales being driven by server virtualisation.

SearchStorageUK: What type of play do you expect from desktop virtualisation?

Next we will see desktop virtualisation which will be driven by operational and security efficiencies in sectors such as call centre and healthcare where they are not so much knowledge workers but transactional in the nature of their work. That will further drive the virtualised architecture through the IT stack -- and we can supply the storage virtualisation and multi-spindle striping needed for such an environment.

SearchStorageUK: How do you view the market prospects for Fibre Channel over Ethernet?

Cormier: FCoE is a move by Fibre Channel vendors to protect their installed base. It's a way to add Fibre Channel disks and arrays and not have to put in more Fibre Channel switches. It's a recognition that they are blocked architecturally. Fibre Channel may be going up to 10 gig but Ethernet goes way beyond that. It will make things more of a battleground, and I foresee that coming 12 months out. But we don't really see it as a threat.

Right now iSCSI has carved out a niche, but FCoE will give the Fibre Channel guys a more effective wide area option. But there are lots of issues with Fibre Channel in a server virtualisation environment. Everything is dynamic in that world and with failover and failback between ESX machines, you need virtual storage underneath and that's hard to do in Fibre Channel in which apps are mapped to volumes and LUNs. It was a 'set it and forget it' technology, which was a good thing then, but doesn't work so well in virtualised environments.

FCoE is perhaps a natural choice for linking remote sites to the Fibre Channel fabric but even here server virtualisation is a growth area, with the ability to cut down many physical servers to a few. For the foreseeable future FCoE will be an option for those with large, transactional-oriented SANs, and frankly I don't think the iSCSI guys have any desire to get into that high-end world.

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