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5 Years After - 4 New Storage Interfaces - How did they Fare?

State of the storage market (summer 2006)

for SATA, iSCSI, SAS and InfiniBand

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor (June 2006)
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In 2001, launched 4 new directory pages dedicated to emerging storage interface technologies which had got a lot of reader attention in our news pages at that time:- These new storage interfaces, conceived at the start of the 2001-2003 US IT market recession did not all match up to the original hopes of their proponents.

In 2006 we went back to see how successful they'd been in the market compared to their original promise.

SATA has been the most successful.

It has been a multi billion dollar market for several years. In 2006 over 300 million hard disk drives will have SATA interfaces. SATA has also made its appearance in solid state disks, DVD drives and tape drives.

iSCSI had an optimistic, much hyped but false start.

The market in 2006 is 2 to 3 years behind the market size which was originally predicted for this.

In the early days of the iSCSI market optimistic projections from IDC led vendors to expect that iSCSI would be a $1 billion market in 2004. Those early projections for 2004 iSCSI revenue were ten times too high. We may have to wait till 2007 before the iSCSI market reaches the magic billion dollar size. The main reasons for iSCSI's slow take-off were:- slowness in the standard development process, early products which didn't work properly, and then finally, waiting for Microsoft to wake up and grasp the significance of the storage market. Looking to the future, the market is now hotting up. Recent iSCSI benchmarks on 10Gbps Ethernet have quoted faster IOPs than Fibre-channel SANs. Vendors are promising that iSCSI will be faster than FC without the setup complexity.

Serial Attached SCSI - It took 4 years for SAS products and systems to start reaching end-users.

...Later:- in September 2006 - a survey of European VARs by LSI Logic revealed that only 14% had already sold SAS solutions to end users.

Hitachi shipped the first 15K RPM SAS hard drives a year ago (May 2005) and most leading server manufacturers had launched SAS based servers by the end of 2005. But I get the impression that most users are underwhelmed by the performance promise that SAS based systems offer. The main reason is that the fastest SATA disks overlap in performance with mid range SAS drives. So the benefits from adopting SAS only appeal to a small segment of the market.

Another reason for the small size of the SAS market may be that parallel SCSI had become a niche for RISC based servers running various flavors of Unix. So although users of Sun's SPARC servers, for example, have seen an upward shift in performance from the new SAS drives, the Unix part of the server market has been overtaken by Windows based servers using Intel Architecture processors. Most I.A. server makers were natural early adopters of the Intel rooted SATA interface. In contrast, most RISC servers never supported PATA, and those product lines had to wait a few more years for the software compatible Serial SCSI disks to emerge.

InfiniBand has been a graveyard for many startups which came into being to support this technology. Of the 4 interface standards which started at about the same time the InfiniBand market is today the smallest in revenue and in growth potential.

...Later:- in September 2006 - the InfiniBand Trade Association estimated that only "over 500 end-user sites" had deployed InfiniBand products in production applications.

The original idea behind InfiniBand was that it would offer an industry standard alternative to the many high speed proprietary busses which server manufacturers used to cluster their most powerful servers. The server recession in 2001-2003 slowed down the pace of new server developments and provided a disincentive for manufacturers to end of life their most profitable products. In the past 4 years two other factors have reduced the potential market size for InfiniBand.

The availability of processor chips with multiple central processing units on the same chip has reduced the need for motherboard to motherboard memory access of the type provided by a factor of two, four or eight - for different chip implementations. Furthermore the availability of 10Gbps Ethernet, and the possibility of 20GbE provides a workable alternative in many applications which would have looked like natural slots for InfiniBand just a few years ago.

Although InfiniBand has reached the stage where there are many working products - the shape of the market is a small number of end-users who consume a large number (thousands each) of InfiniBand ports. It is doubtful that this will become a high volume market unless something radically changes in the architecture of server systems. If that change happens - you'll be the first to know as it gets reported in these news pages.

Summary - The storage market has changed a lot since these new storage interfaces were hatched in 2001. The new interfaces have survived a recession and it's likely that they will all still be around in some upgraded form till the end of the decade. They were designed to meet the needs of computer networks in which the main form of online storage is hard disk based. In the next few years we'll start to see a shift away from rotating mechanical storage (hard disks, DVDs and tapes) towards faster, more reliable solid state storage. Solid state disks currently use interfaces which are hand-me-downs from the magnetic storage era. The next generation of new storage interfaces which may start life in 2011 will be completely different. Watch this space.

You can get more detailed information about all the above markets, vendors, history, applications etc by clicking on the links above.

See also:- 10 Years After - (featuring Alvin Lee on lead guitar).
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