Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The Internet Small Computer Systems Interface—or iSCSI—seems a natural fit for the channel.

The technology, which lets block-level storage flow over a company’s existing IP networks, is cheaper to deploy and manage than Fibre Channel technology, supporters say.

In the past, an FC-based SAN (storage-area network) was the main block-storage option for customers looking to migrate from direct-attached storage. But with iSCSI, customers can build an IP-based SAN. No need to purchase Fibre Channel gear. No need to hire Fibre Channel experts to mind the SAN.

Following that logic, small and midsize companies should find iSCSI-based IP SANs an attractive alternative to their Fibre Channel counterparts. Resellers, in turn, should find plenty of business helping their bread-and-butter small and midsize companies evaluate and install the technology. iSCSI storage vendors, meanwhile, should gravitate toward channel players as a means for cracking iSCSI’s SMB sweet spot.

Theoretically, at least.

In reality, the iSCSI scenario described above has yet to unfold in any significant way. Channel executives say customer interest is growing, but adoption on a massive scale isn’t happening at the moment.

“We are in the infancy stage,” said Mike Gaeta, vice president of storage and displays at Avnet Applied Computing Inc., which targets OEMs. “There’s not a lot of activity around iSCSI products at this time.”

Indeed, iSCSI is still relatively new. The technology earned the Internet Engineering Task Force’s seal of approval in early 2003. Such emerging technologies can take a while to catch on, Gaeta observed. He cited the adoption of Serial ATA technology as an example. The technology now enjoys traction in the marketplace, but “we thought we would be where we are today a year and a half to two years ago,” he said.

New technology typically engenders a certain amount of fear among prospective customers. Greater deliberation among buyers in the post-boom era probably contributes to this hesitance. That said, iSCSI is showing signs of greater acceptance.

Peter Mainguy, director of worldwide channels at network storage vendor BlueArc Corp., said iSCSI support has been a check-box item “to get you to the next level of the selling cycle.” Lately, he said he has seen customers taking a more serious look at iSCSI. “It’s a growing wave,” he said.

LeftHand Networks, an IP SAN (storage area network) vendor, reported in October that it has deployed more than 750 IP SAN systems during the past 18 months. LeftHand supports iSCSI, but has also used its own proprietary protocol, Advanced Ethernet Block Storage.

In another example of the wave growing larger, EqualLogic Inc. last month announced that Schenck Business Solutions, an accounting/consulting firm, replaced its FC architecture with EqualLogic’s iSCSI solution.

As for patterns in iSCSI adoption, a BlueArc spokesman said initial iSCSI interest is in Microsoft Exchange environments, which favor block versus file storage.

Jeff Bawol, senior vice president and general manager of Avnet Partner Solutions’ Enterprise Software and Storage Business Unit, said iSCSI has also begun to pique customer interest as an entry-level SAN and a means for long-distance data mirroring.

“It’s gaining momentum,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time.”