IBM whacks lone iSCSI box

What's an SMB to do?

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IBM has culled another low end system from its storage lineup, eliminating the highly marketed but slow selling 200i iSCSI box.

IBM is trimming the fat off its storage hardware on a regular basis. Two weeks ago, it decided to discontinue a pair of Microsoft Windows-based NAS boxes. This week, the TotalStorage IP Storage 200i has been told its time has come as well.

Since its introduction in 2001, the 200i system has been a source of industry interest. IBM used the storage box to tout its early adoption of the iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) protocol, which makes it possible to send large blocks of data over IP. The appliance was the first of its kind from any major vendor, and IBM was proud to say so.

In 2002, however, things began to look a bit grim. Rumors of very slow sales slithered through the industry, and IBM began to tame its marketing fervor. Some people expected IBM to kill off the 200i at that time, but Big Blue would not go that far. It decided to characterize the 200i as an iSCSI experiment instead.

"We wanted to make sure this was a technology people wanted, and we got that validation back," spokeswoman Sandra Dressel said at the time. "When new technology first enters the marketplace you often see them in these types of products [appliances], but then the technology matures and goes more into the infrastructure and eventually becomes native across various products."

Fast forward to 2003, and IBM has reworked its iSCSI plans, knocking the 200i out of the picture. IBM has partnered with Cisco on a hardware module that supports iSCSI and can link Fibre Channel systems to Ethernet-based systems. IBM is also expected to begin adding iSCSI support to some of its higher end kit.

Overall, this move fits in well with IBM's strategy to leave the low end hardware such as Windows-based NAS boxes - the NAS 100 and NAS 200 - and storage appliances to more mass market types.

"IBM's trimming of its low-end storage appliances is a fairly smart move," said David Freund, an analyst at Illuminata. "Low-end NAS is really a volume market, and more of a distraction than a core part of IBM's overall "On-Demand" strategy.

In the On-Demand category, IBM has recently started shipping its SAN Volume Controller. This sophisticated hardware/software product is designed to handle various multi-protocol and storage virtualization issues.

Like most of IBM's On Demand strategy, however, the SAN Volume Controller is aimed right at the enterprise. This leaves SMB customers looking for the latest and greatest storage technology such as iSCSI a bit in the lurch. But Illuminata's Freund says IBM's iSCSI support should be adequate for the moment and that midrange kit with the technology may be on its way.

"IBM is not dropping the iSCSI protocol, since it's still available through the Cisco devices the company resells," he said. "Seeing the protocol eventually added to the company's other equipment would come as no surprise, either."

IBM told El Reg that it's preparing some information on exactly what SMB customers should do if they are interested in iSCSI, and we hope to bring an update to you soon.

Given IBM's penchant for hyping iSCSI and the apparent industry momentum behind the protocol, Big Blue must have some new kit arriving sooner than later. ®

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