IP storage standard set to roll

The long-delayed iSCSI standard is set to gain Internet Engineering Task Force approval within weeks, which means it’s “put up or shut up” time for vendors that have cited its incompleteness as justification for failing to support the IP storage specification in their arrays.

Despite a flurry of iSCSI-related activity by secondary players last week, the wholesale deployment of next-generation storage technology will remain dampened until system vendors such as EMC Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. implement iSCSI-enabled arrays, experts say.

“It takes more than one vendor to do this – it takes the entire industry to offer support for it,” said Jamie Gruener, senior analyst with The Yankee Group.

Only IBM Corp. and Eurologic Systems Inc. have incorporated iSCSI into their arrays. Sources say EMC has an iSCSI-enabled midrange Clariion array running in its labs and is expected to introduce products in the first half of this year.

HP will iSCSI-enable its StorageWorks products with switches and routers in the first half of this year, according to Karl Walker, HP’s CTO for Industry Standard Servers. HP also is hoping to introduce native iSCSI storage arrays and server hardware by year-end, he says.

The IP Storage Working Group last week announced that the iSCSI specification would be approved by the IETF sometime in the next two months. The iSCSI protocol allows the transport of SCSI data over an IP network rather than a separate Fibre Channel network, thus saving money and simplifying management. Delay of that approval as vendors iron out technical issues has dampened much of the initial enthusiasm for the protocol.

Meanwhile, there were other signs of heightened interest in iSCSI last week at the Server I/O Conference in Monterey, Calif., including:

* EqualLogic Inc.’s announcement that it will launch an iSCSI storage array in the first half of this year that replaces direct-attached storage and automatically provisions and load-balances resources.

*Okapi Networks’ introduction of a disk-to-disk-to-tape appliance called the ipXcelerator D2D2T, which uses the iSCSI protocol to back up data from servers to inexpensive Serial ATA drives.

*Alacritech Inc.’s announcement of an iSCSI driver for Linux servers.

*Cenata Networks Inc.’s announcement of one of the first iSCSI drivers for Solaris SPARC-based servers, which is expected to ship in April.

The iSCSI protocol is implemented in software and in three types of gear: Gigabit Ethernet or host bus adapters called initiators, iSCSI switches/routers and storage arrays called targets.

Cisco Systems Inc., IBM, Alacritech Inc., Qlogic Inc. and Emulex Corp. offer an abundance of iSCSI software drivers and adapters. The adapters communicate with target storage arrays or IP storage routers from Cisco, Nishan Systems Inc., SANRAD and Stonefly Networks Inc., which connect to SCSI or Fibre Channel storage arrays.

Analysts say users who have implemented iSCSI have done so with iSCSI routers and switches because of a paucity of target storage arrays.

Users who have tried early, prestandard iSCSI products say they have been satisfied. St. Croix Woodwork in Stillwater, Minn., uses Okapi’s ipXpress product, which converts ATA, Integrated Drive Electronics or SCSI drives into iSCSI storage appliances. The company has about 1 terabyte of data in several remote offices.

“I wanted a technology that was plug-and-play, didn’t cost US$70,000 and didn’t [make me] throw everything away,” said St. Croix CEO Jim Jensen.

“We didn’t buy the product because it was bleeding edge, innovative or new. We bought it because it solves our problems and it works,” he adds.