Opinion: The iSCSI iceberg

Are you sick of hearing about the future of iSCSI and all the glowing predictions of what it will bring? Well, so are we. For every one article we've written on iSCSI over the past three years, we've had at least 10 briefings. Alas, it's only just started.

But it's getting better now, because we're excited about what we're seeing and hearing, and you should be, too. Apparently, the future of iSCSI is finally here.

The latest news is the arrival of iSCSI-based targets. Last week, startup Intransa came out of hiding with its IP-based SAN. Scalable from 3TB to 10TB, the IP5000 represents what we expected to see: a lot of low-cost commodity hardware components glued together with a robust set of software.

Intransa's software features include snapshot, mirroring, virtual volume management. The product they sell is actually a controller, which is coupled with a Gigabit Ethernet switch. The controller has four Gigabit Ethernet connections and 2GB of cache. Intransa also sells the disk enclosure, which houses two low-priced 200GB 7,200rpm ATA drives. The array will be available in June and well suited to work with Microsoft Exchange.

Also due out in June is a native iSCSI tape library from Spectra Logic Corp. and Microsoft Corp.'s iSCSI driver. Hewlett-Packard Co. earlier this month released a beta version of an iSCSI driver for its Unix operating system, HP-UX, which will likely be finalized in June as well. And Silverback Systems, which is at work on storage processors that accelerate iSCSI to throughput rates equivalent to those of Fibre Channel systems, just received $15 million in venture capital funding.

It would be madness pretending to write a comprehensive roundup of what's brewing in iSCSI. As with icebergs, what's hiding under the water is much larger than what's visible on the surface.

In case you've been marooned on a giant glacier near Antarctica with Ernest Shackleford and crew, we'll list for you why iSCSI is good for the enterprise. 1. Standards. 2. Standards. 3. Standards. Get the idea? You and your networking counterparts know and love IP, and iSCSI will not require spending on training and deployment. That leads to point No. 4, cost savings. And don't forget that Ethernet can reach speeds as fast as 10Gbps, a lot faster than Fibre Channel will ever go.

Not quite persuaded? Well, if you have some time to kill try visiting (as we did) the Web site of major storage vendors. You won't always find iSCSI mentioned in their product list but don't fret -- look at their personnel research pages (many are indeed online), scroll for openings of technical positions and surprise! Invariably you will find the iSCSI protocol knowledge listed among their requirements for engineering positions.

We found many vendors with an eye on iSCSI, even where we were not expecting to find iSCSI interest, but as a courtesy to them we will keep their names to ourselves for now. What does this prove? It proves that iSCSI is changing -- we should probably say has already changed -- from a pipe dream to a mainstream technology that nobody, not even the most loyal Fibre Channel addicts, can afford to ignore.

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