REDMOND, Wash., April 14, 2003 — What appears at first glance to be a rather mundane technology is making quite a stir in the IT community.
In companies large and small, IT organizations are taking a keen interest in the new Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) protocol because it may solve many of their most challenging storage problems.
Recently ratified by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), iSCSI is a storage protocol designed to transport block-level storage traffic over IP networks. It enables low-cost solutions that provide enterprise, as well as small- to medium-sized businesses, with performance, reliability and security for their planned storage area network (SAN) implementations.
According to Gartner Dataquest, by 2006 iSCSI will connect nearly 1.5 million servers to SANs more than any competing technology. Says Gartner Group chief analyst James Opfer,
“Operating system support for the iSCSI specification will facilitate deployment of interoperable storage products. These products will meet the needs of customers for whom connectivity and familiarity with IP are of paramount importance.”
In fact, the storage vendor community is rapidly accepting iSCSI. Microsoft, which will deliver iSCSI support for Windows client and server environments in June, is playing a key role in bringing together the storage vendors to make iSCSI-based applications and storage devices a reality for their customers.
iSCSI in the Marketplace
Intransa, a San Jose, Calif.-based storage and management firm, has been involved with iSCSI and Microsoft from the earliest stages of the protocols development.
“Were a beta site for Microsoft on the iSCSI technology,”
explains Ed Turner, Intransa vice president of marketing.
We have been involved in the development and testing of the protocol, using our IP5000 Storage System as a target for the iSCSI driver. As a result, on April 7 we were able to announce the availability of the first full-featured, enterprise-class, IP-based SAN. The IP5000, which is priced under two cents per megabyte, extends the benefits of SANs to a broad range of applications and user environments at about one-fifth the cost of todays current SAN products.
“In addition, Intransa is working with its own beta customerssuch as 3Com and Blue Star Solutions,”
For example, by using iSCSI to implement an Intransa IP-SAN, 3Coms IT organization is making major strides in lowering its TCO by consolidating the companys infrastructure environment, specifically email.
Turner explains that because e-mail is inherently unstructured, IT cannot be the arbiter of what e-mail information can be kept or deleted. Even though 3COM asks its users to remove unwanted e-mails on a regular basis, e-mail is still the largest contributor to the number of servers in its IT environment.
“Microsoft Exchange Server is 3Coms e-mail server of choice,”
“By integrating iSCSI, 3Com is able to seamlessly use Intransas IP-SAN technology while taking full advantage of its own data network infrastructure. As the leader in data networking switches, 3COM naturally uses its own Gigabit Ethernet Switches in its Data Center. The Intransa IP-SAN system connects directly to these Gigabit Ethernet ports which saves the purchase cost of an entirely different set of switches.”
Ari Bose, CIO at 3COM, adds,
“The integration of iSCSI by Microsoft saves us the cost of storage adapters that other SAN systems require, although we know we can invest in iSCSI Hardware Based Adapters if we choose. The Intransa system provides the volume of disk space we need to consolidate our infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of other SAN systems. We expect to go from about 25 e-mail servers in the United States to four, reducing our cost by 70 percent.”
iSCSI at Blue Star
Blue Star Solutions, another Intransa iSCSI development customer, is a leading provider of IT outsourcing services, including complete end-to-end services for managing SAP applications.
Bill Augustadt, Blue Star CTO, says
The initial application that were exploring with Intransa is the use of the iSCSI protocol for DFS (Distributed File System) replication. This is a capability we can implement on behalf of many of our customersand we currently service more than 100,000 hosted users in 20 countries around the world. This application allows us to back up data residing on customers remote server to a central storage location.
“To our customers, the storage is transparent,” Augustadt explains. “But under the covers, the use of the iSCSI technology allows us to scale storage to meet our customers price points and store it on the iSCSI-enabled Intransa’s IP-SAN system. At the same time, our customers benefit by being able to utilize near-line storage putting more data online, rather than having data go directly to tape. Our customers have faster access to their data and faster recovery time in case of disaster.
Storage Networking World Demos
Microsoft is demonstrating its support of iSCSI at Storage Networking World this week (April 14-17) in Phoenix. In the shows IP Storage Forum Interoperability Lab, Microsoft will run several demonstrations that include Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server in clustered iSCSI environments.
One demonstration features a highly available Microsoft Exchange environment using Exchange Servers in a two-node cluster based on iSCSI, using Microsofts iSCSI architecture and Adaptec iSCSI Host Bus Adapters (HBA) connecting to an NEC iSCSI storage array. Another features a Microsoft SQL Server environment using SQL Server in a two-node cluster using Elipsan iSCSI external storage and the Microsoft iSCSI initiator. Both demos will show how IT can deploy a cost-effective clustered application based on existing, easy to manage IP networks.
Microsoft will also be demonstrating iSCSI at the Microsoft booth, showing Exchange and Intransa storage.
A Complementary Technology
“We do not view iSCSI as a replacement for Fibre Channel or any other current storage technology,”
says Zane Adam, director of Product Development and Marketing for Microsofts Enterprise Storage Division.
iSCSI complements existing storage solutions companies that already have deployed Fibre Channel SANS are not going to rip them out and replace them with iSCSI. But if an enterprise has two or more separate Fibre Channel SANs in operation, iSCSI is the perfect low cost solution to connect these storage islands.
“If an enterprise has not yet invested in Fibre Channel, iSCSI allows it to implement a new cost-effective storage solution that runs over their existing Ethernet infrastructure,”
“By being able to leverage the existing TC/IP and Ethernet networks, the cost of entry into the world of SANs is considerably lower.”
Adam also points out that iSCSI allows small- to medium-sized companies that cant handle the large capital outlay associated with Fibre Channel to be able to deploy a SAN of their ownsomething that was beyond their reach until now.
More than 60 independent software vendors (ISVs) and independent hardware vendors (IHVs) are either planning or actively developing Windows-based applications and storage hardware products based on iSCSI. Microsofts iSCSI initiator package, which will be available in June as a Web download at no charge, supports Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional (client) and Server, Windows XP client, and the upcoming Windows Server 2003 family of products.
A Familiar, Powerful Protocol
iSCSI uses two widely adopted protocols for storage and networkingSCSI and TCP/IP.
iSCSI employs Ethernet as the transport for data from servers to storage devices or SANs. The protocol takes standard SCSI commands into TCP and sends them over standard Ethernet, a venerable technology familiar to most IT shops. To create an iSCSI-based SAN, network designers bring together servers equipped with an iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA) or network interface card (NIC), disk arrays and tape libraries.
iSCSI uses standard Ethernet switches, routers and cables, taking advantage of existing IT investments and reducing total cost of ownership (TCO). Devices such as iSCSI HBAs, disk arrays, tape and iSCSI to Fibre Channel bridging products are already on the market and more are becoming available as Microsoft and other ramp up their support of the protocol.
A primary goal of iSCSI is to bring the flexibility, scalability and availability benefits of SANS to Windows and other environments where expensive high-end solutions are not practical. Because iSCSI takes advantage of familiar technology and technical resources, the technology has a clear cost advantage over Fibre Channel, particularly if the iSCSI SAN piggybacks on existing Ethernet and server infrastructure.
“iSCSI-based solutions will make a major contribution to consolidation and improved TCO for IP-based SANs,”
Microsofts Adam says.
This, in turn, will accelerate the widespread use of the protocol. For example, take a corporation that has 40 or more servers with direct attached storage. This is a difficult-to-manage, inefficient and costly configuration. iSCSI allows this storage environment to be consolidated into fewer iSCSI devices that are fully configured for redundancy, fail-over, and high availability.
“iSCSI is also well suited to dense server applications such as blades storage can be in the same rack or remote and it can be configured as a SAN or NAS (Network Attached Storage) as needed,”
“With a single network, your hardware requirements are simplifiedyou can use one switch type and same cables and existing firewall and Virtual LAN (VLAN) techniques. All of these capabilities contribute to consolidation and, as a result, TCO plummets.”
Help for Branch Offices
Adam notes that iSCSI remote capabilities allow cost effective replication of data to a corporations branch offices. IT can use existing VLANs and deploy the infrastructure where there is no requirement for the high speeds and cost of extended Fibre Channel infrastructure. With an iSCSI-based infrastructure, the branch office realizes the full benefit of SAN features: the use of advanced data protection techniques; better storage management and migration; and high utilization of free space.
iSCSI also promises to drive down the cost of entry for geographically distributing files, something that most companies have found challenging both technically and economically. By using a variety of IP technologies, iSCSI is able to span greater distances than other network solutions, making possible, for example, economical offsite disaster recovery. In addition, using Microsoft Cluster Services, high performance computing applications that were not economically feasible before are now within the reach of smaller businesses and academic institutions. iSCSI will also provide global file sharing using Microsoft Distributed File System (DFS) with closest site selection and File Replication Services capabilities.
“At this point in time, Fibre Channel continues to be the best choice for many high end, high performance storage solutions,”
iSCSI may lower infrastructure costs, but its still a relatively new protocol and the IETF and other working groups are addressing a number of issues, including performance, management and security. And were making rapid progress.
“At Microsoft, we are designing Windows iSCSI solutions with security and authentication as one of our top priorities,”
IPsec is used for strong encryption, CHAP (Challenge-Handshake Authentication Protocol) for authentication, and Windows Internet Key Exchange (IKE) for key exchange. The Microsoft iSCSI Service provides a variety of interfaces and capabilities for advanced security and is completely integrated with the Windows security model. This extends not just to software based solutions, but also to iSCSI HBAs.
“As far as Microsoft is concerned,”
“were committed to providing a broad range of storage solutions to meet our customers cost, complexity and data requirements. Were supporting iSCSI because we want to give our customers a full range of storage technologies to choose fromfrom Fibre Channel to flat files. iSCSI rounds out our offerings in a major way.”
A Protocol on the Move
The list of vendors currently participating in Microsofts iSCSI beta program includes Adaptec Inc., Advanced Digital Information Corp., Agilent Technologies Inc., Alacritech Inc., Allocity Inc., American Megatrends Inc., Amherst Technologies, Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Broadcom Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Contemporary Cybernetics Group Inc., Crossroads Systems Inc., DataCore Software Corp., DCM Technologies Ltd., Dell Computer Corp., Elipsan, EMC Corp., Emulex Corp., EqualLogic Inc., Eurologic Systems, Even Enterprises Inc., FalconStor Software Inc., FibreStream Inc., Fujitsu Siemens Computers, HCL Technologies Ltd., HP, IBM Corp., I.I.S. Intelligent Information Systems Ltd., Intel Corp., Intransa Inc., Invio Software Inc., iReady Corp., iVivity Inc., LSI Logic Corp., NEC Corp., NEC Solutions (America) Inc., Network Appliance Inc., Nishan Systems Inc., PolyServe Inc., Porthus, Promise Technology Inc., QLogic Corp., Quantum Corp., SANRAD Inc., ServerWorks Inc., Silicom Connectivity Solutions Inc., Siliquent Technologies Ltd., Silverback Systems Inc., SimpleTech Inc., Spectra Logic, Stackable Design, StoneFly Networks Inc., StorageConnections.Net, Trebia Networks Inc., Vibren Technologies Inc., Wasabi Systems Inc., Wind River Systems Inc. and YaGUSA Technology LLC. And the list continues to grow.
Microsofts iSCSI Designed for Windows Logo Program, which enables IHVs to qualify their Windows-targeted iSCSI hardware components, is adding further impetus to the protocols acceptance. The Logo Program kicks off in June with the availability of Microsofts iSCSI support for Windows.
Microsoft also has been working with the iSCSI Consortium and participating in the University of New Hampshire Plugfest for more than two years in order to insure interoperability within the IS industry. In February, Microsoft hosted an iSCSI Plugfest on its Redmond campus to facilitate broad development and testing of iSCSI-based software applications and storage hardware products. A total of 26 IHVs, ISVs and original equipment manufacturers were in attendance. Also, Microsoft is an active member of the IETF and is working with that body to fully develop the iSCSI protocol.
Commented Gartner Research analyst James Opfer on Microsofts March 12 announcement of its support for iSCSI,
“Gartner considers that Microsofts announcement nicely matches the market requirements and opportunities for iSCSI. The partnership of Microsoft with more than 60 independent software and hardware vendors will introduce viable, interoperable iSCSI products by the end of 2003.”