Welcome, iSCSI

After two years of countless meetings and animated discussions, the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA) announced the completion of a final iSCSI standard draft. The last call for revisions triggered only a few minor requests for edits -- in other words, the standard is good to go. For the storage public, this milestone is the equivalent of the white smoke announcing to the world that a new pope has been elected.

Although still a draft, this last version of the standard has gained unfettered acceptance by the storage community. At startup Alacritech Inc., the new -- and likely final -- version of the standard is already being implemented into the company's iSCSI interface cards.

According to Joe Gervais, director of product marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based Alacritech, the company isn't alone. By next quarter, he predicts a flurry of products that will support iSCSI.

According to Bill Lynn, co-chair of the SNIA IP Storage Forum, putting together the iSCSI draft has been a smooth ride, although some topics, such as the adoption of TCP as transport protocol and the inclusion of security guidelines in the specs, were the focus of heated debate.

Nonetheless, TCP is the accepted transport protocol, and unlike the Fibre Channel specs that do not dictate security provisions, iSCSI demands that implementers support CHAP (Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol) authentication at a minimum and enforce IPsec encryption when appropriate.

So why is the iSCSI protocol really so important? The first reason that comes to mind is that it creates a more affordable entry point to block-based storage networks, compared to Fibre Channel. iSCSI components are expected to be less expensive and will not require learning of additional skills, attracting more customers to networked storage.

Moreover, by using iSCSI, companies can leverage existing WANs to easily implement solutions such as remote replicas or remote backups and strengthen their business continuity plans.iSCSI also enters the storage arena as a non-adversarial solution that is consistent with existing Fibre Channel networks. Although an iSCSI SAN can stand on its own, it can also easily connect to a Fibre Channel network. This allows companies to preserve existing investments and gives them more flexibility to choose the most cost-effective solution.

And finally, iSCSI promises vendor transparency: Next month at Storage Networking World in Orlando, Fla., we'll see several interoperable solutions from various vendors.

Fast, affordable, secure, and environmentally friendly, iSCSI clearly makes a grand entrance in the networked storage world and should be carving out a space in your IT budget.

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