ISCSI’s big backer

As we write this, word is in that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has officially approved the iSCSI specification as a “proposed standard.” And already the standard has its first big-name supporter.

Even before that news though, Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) announced plans to support the iSCSI protocol (which existing customers can obtain free of charge) for the company’s F800 and FAS900 NAS appliances. Network Appliance is betting on iSCSI-based SANs becoming the preferred step-up from DAS (direct attached storage) for the still large number of companies that don’t have networked storage. And to grab that market, it needed to support IP-based storage.

In this scenario, the FAS900 becomes the file-based entry point and equalizer for Fibre Channel or iSCSI SANs and NAS solutions from multiple vendors. Why is the partnership angle important here? Because, according to Network Appliance, Intel helped shape the iSCSI support, and all the major backup software vendors are cooperating to integrate NetApp’s new version of SnapVault — allowing customers to run those online copies with minimal network traffic and administrative burden, while maintaining their favorite, third-party backup applications — with their solutions.

NetApp’s decision to embrace iSCSI couldn’t come at a better time. Already, startups Eurologic Inc. and EqualLogic Inc. are talking about IP-SANs and their ability to do what NAS devices do but with better management and scalability features, not to mention at about the same cost.

EqualLogic recently shared the details of its forthcoming IP-based SAN product, based on a self-managing architecture that can automatically load-balance and replicate data between arrays as another of its kind is added. The system will use iSCSI and will be positioned as a tier two SAN. Like other low-end NAS filers, it will aim to store data that isn’t always mission-critical.

Eurologic’s iSCSI offering is the iCS2100. It uses off-the-shelf Gigabit Ethernet products and works with Windows File Servers. The company believes its product offers more bang for the buck than a NAS filer.

But NetApp is clearly not putting all its eggs in the iSCSI bucket. And to get more market share and reach more customers, it’s joining the trend of competing vendors joining forces to give customers what they want.

One example of this is last year’s agreement between Hitachi Data System Corp. (HDS) and Network Appliance, the latter providing the technology to put a NAS head on HDS’ SAN bodies. The deal was obviously a brisk step to up NAS sales because it gave customers the option of acquiring NetApp NAS front-ends for HDS’ popular SAN.

A recent salvo of other new solution and partnership announcements illustrates NetApp’s desire to diversify. In a nutshell, Network Appliance is offering a new 24TB-capable model of the NearStore R150, doubling the capacity and performance of its year-old predecessor. The R150 can act as a combined repository for disk-to-disk backups and near-line storage at an expected cost of only cents per megabyte.

Then, throw in NetApp’s new version of SnapVault software, add some more software, and a remote R150 can become the target of cross-WAN volume replicas and snapshots.And that’s a very good thing for users seeking to cheaply replicate storage across long distances.