Storage vendors boast of wire speed iSCSI SAN

Three storage vendors this week claimed to have cobbled together a SCSI over IP (iSCSI) storage network out of off-the-shelf hardware, beating by a year industry expectations about when the first viable iSCSI storage area networks (SAN) would ship.

Alacritech Inc. and Nishan Systems Inc., both in San Jose, and Hitachi Data Systems Ltd. in Santa Clara, Calif., said they used servers, switches and raid devices that are already shipping to achieve wire-speed iSCSI, with data transfer rates of 218MB/sec.

In related news, Intel Corp. is expected to announce next week that it too will be releasing an iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA). It will interoperate with products from Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM.

Alacritech said it created an “integrated storage” network interface card (NIC) that it used in its Gigabit Ethernet server and that, along with its Storage Accelerator, was connected to a Nishan IP switch via a single Gigabit Ethernet link. The target device was a Hitachi Freedom Storage system.

“What’s unique about the product we’re bringing to market is it’s a device that performs two tasks: On LANs, it delivers wire speed Ethernet connectivity, and on storage networks, the same adapter can perform iSCSI moving block-level data,” said Alacritech spokesman Barry Haaser.

Alacritech’s HBA takes care of the TCP/IP and iSCSI processing, off-loading it from the server and freeing up CPU cycles.

“TCP/IP off-load engines should go a long way toward levelling the differences in resource consumption among storage networking technologies,” said Nick Allen, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

“iSCSI promises to let users operate SAN, NAS, LAN, and wide-area networks as a single, integrated network. This option will help IT managers choose storage, server and networking technologies that are more easily managed, scalable and cost-effective,” he added.

David Zanesco, a network manager at Madison National Life Insurance Co. in Middleton, Wis., said he wants to be one of the first to install the new NICs. He said iSCSI would not only speed up his SAN, but would also create other network efficiencies. Zanesco currently uses Alacritech’s four-port NIC. Alacritech’s newer NIC uses a single-port configuration, cutting down on the number of wires needed to connect into the network.

“We are a Token Ring shop. The Alacritech cards are Ethernet. So we’re really customizing our configuration here,” Zanesco said. “We’d probably install an iSCSI NIC on all the workhorse servers, and that would connect into our IP Ethernet switch. And we would also have Alacritech’s cards on our tape backup servers,” Zanesco said. “We’re going to be able to communicate much quicker with our production servers, and there will be no bottlenecks.”

Nishan IP Storage switches support Fibre Channel switching, Gigabit Ethernet switching and wire-speed conversion between Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet. Each interface can be configured to support iSCSI end systems, Fibre Channel end systems or Fibre Channel SANs.

“I’m not advocating people throw away their Fibre Channel architecture, but with this you have the flexibility to build fabrics where you can use some SCSI and some Fibre Channel,” Haaser said. “This particularly becomes significant when we look at the enormous investment people have made in IP infrastructures.”