iSCSI vendor selection process

In this column, Scott Lowe describes his team's vendor selection process for their iSCSI storage project.

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In my last article, I talked a little about the decision-making process that I and my team went through before settling on an iSCSI-based storage area network vs. the tried-and-true fibre channel approach. In this article, I'll go over the vendor selection process, outline the areas we looked at to come up with our final selection, and tell you why we didn't select certain other vendors. In the next article, I'll outline the selection process we went through once the choice was narrowed to two finalists.

Surveying the field

With vendors of all shapes and sizes out there, the first reasonable step in the selection process was to narrow down the list to something manageable. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and poring over literature from dozens of vendors just wasn't in the cards. So first, we started the winnowing process.

Everyone has probably heard the names EMC, IBM, NetApp, and HP—these companies are considered among the big names in storage. I looked over their product lines and decided fairly early on that their wares wouldn't meet my needs, particularly when it came to price. Further, some of these vendors—EMC, in particular—have only very recently embraced iSCSI as a part of their portfolio, while others—NetApp, for example—have been offering the best of both worlds—fibre channel and iSCSI in the same box—for a while now.

Even though these companies are quite strong and have great products, I decided that I didn't want to move forward with any of them. For a variety of reasons, all of them deeply support fibre channel, and many have only recently tacked iSCSI onto their hardware. Further, I knew from the outset that fibre channel would not be a consideration in my organization either now or in the near future, so even NetApp's multi-protocol capable appliance didn't immediately appeal to me for its flexibility.

Finally, the solutions that were in my price range from these companies were somewhat limited. Take EMC's AX100, for example (AX100i for the iSCSI system, which was not available when I selected a product). With a maximum raw capacity of only 3 TB, this system would not be enough to meet our data storage needs without requiring a significant upgrade in the next couple of years. NetApp sells the FAS270c, which is a cluster-capable unit supporting up to 8 TB per device, but I didn't like the idea of needing to buy two complete units to achieve this redundancy. Moving up to the more expandable EMC CX300 (now CX300i for the iSCSI system) or to a comparable array from a different vendor—put the prospect out of reach of my budget, which is a reality that I had to live with.

The contenders

At the same time, I started hearing from a company called LeftHand Networks regarding their NSM series of storage hardware and, during my research into this line, I ran across arrays from a company called EqualLogic. Both vendors are considered new players in the storage market and both sell iSCSI-only gear. Both also received rave reviews in both the press and in telephone interviews I conducted with current customers. The information I was reading about these two companies was also a factor in my decision to abandon the "big players" for one of these smaller, newer competitors.

Ultimately, my short list of solutions came down to these two vendors. My next article will reveal our final selection along with all of the reasons we chose that particular vendor over all the others.

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