Bracing for the storm

Today the sun is still shining on FC (Fibre Channel), but there are unmistakable signs that a storm -- a whirlwind of IP storage networking products -- is approaching.

How IP storage will impact storage networks is, at the moment, anyone's guess -- even weather is easier to forecasts. But two likely effects of introducing IP-based storage networks loom on the horizon: First, they will encourage a large number of entry-level customers to abandon the DAS (direct attached storage) model; and second, they will act as a cost-mitigating factor, driving down the cost of FC-based solutions.

It may be totally unrelated, but it's interesting that Gadzoox Networks Inc., one of the icons of FC networking, recently decided to license its FabriCore Engines software to other manufacturers that can incorporate it into their products to manage Fibre-Channel connectivity and transport.

End-users may not find FabriCore Engines so exciting, but they are a must-have for manufacturers of FC storage solutions, and should make developing FC products less expensive.

But back to IP storage: Final iSCSI (Internet SCSI) standards are not expected before year's end, but Cisco must consider the current draft stable enough to add another model, SN 5428, to its family of storage network routers. The 5428 is meant for deployment in midsize storage networks, and each box can connect servers using two GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) ports, and storage devices using six FC ports. Multiple SN 5428 routers can be clustered to create a more resilient storage network.

It's interesting to note that the storage device interface on Cisco Systems Inc.'s SN 5428 is FC, not GbE, because it reflects what's currently missing in the IP storage scenario: device connectivity. The current draft standards haven't yet solved security and performance issues for iSCSI storage devices. As a result, most vendors, with the notable exception of IBM Corp. and its TotalStorage 200i, are waiting for more precise guidelines before developing iSCSI bridges or native devices.

Taking an altogether different approach is Stonefly Networks, whose new storage concentrator, the I1500, overcomes the connectivity gap by using native SCSI and FC ports for storage devices, while its GbE ports attach the unit to hosts or other Stonefly concentrators. Stonefly allows you to create an IP network from existing storage devices, including ubiquitous SCSI drives, and it defines logical volumes that are transparent to applications on Linux and Windows hosts. Stonefly intends to add fail-over and snapshot capabilities to its routers, and to extend OS support as more host drivers are developed.

From our point of view, the iSCSI storm won't arrive until affordable native or bridged connectivity to SCSI devices becomes available. But this might happen faster than you can open your umbrella. Stay dry.

Is your company ready for an IP storage network storm? E-mail us at dan_neel@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com

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