IBM technology could let desktops go diskless

IBM Corp. announced Thursday an emerging technology that would allow PCs and servers to access operating systems via IP networks, which could eventually lead to computers devoid of hard drives.

The iBoot technology, which is still in the research stage, is expected to allow computers to boot up using a number of operating systems, including Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Linux, from a SCSI over IP (iSCSI) hard drive accessed via a standard network.

"There aren't any product plans that we can talk about now," said an IBM spokeswoman.

Eric Sheppard, a network storage analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said he believes the technology will help to drive the emerging iSCSI protocol and increase data storage efficiency and reliability.

"Tell me how many times you back up your C drive. Network drives are backed up far more often that any C drive," he said.

The iSCSI protocol allows block-level data to be transported over TCP/IP networks, reducing the cost of installing Fibre Channel as well as having to pay special technicians to maintain it. ISCSI is also expected to outperform Fibre Channel, which has a data transfer rate of 2G bit/sec., as Ethernet speeds jump from 1G bit/sec. to 10G bit/sec. in the near future.

IBM said the technology will also enable network administrators to centrally manage all disks and perform maintenance activities or software upgrades all at once from a central location, reducing the cost of upgrades across an entire enterprise. Eventually, it could also lead to diskless servers, where many servers could be stacked in a cabinet for greater computing power, while taking up less power and space.

The technology was developed in IBM's Haifa, Israel, research lab.

Kalman Meth, manager of the Network Attached Storage Group in IBM's Haifa lab said using "diskless servers or workstations means the entire disk farm can be stored at some remote location, facilitating centralized backup, maintenance or replacement of all disks and software."

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