Adaptec drives iSCSI deeper into storage

Adaptec Inc. took the wraps off three new IP (Internet Protocol) storage adapters Monday, attempting to provide users with better data transfer speeds over Ethernet networks and help users link disparate storage systems.

Adaptec's adapter products have garnered the attention of some of the storage world's biggest players, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Advanced Digital Information Corp. (ADIC). Companies such as HP have turned to Adaptec to build new products or soup up existing servers with support for the emerging iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) standard for linking data storage systems over IP.

The iSCSI standard should help users send both block-level and file-level data across Ethernet networks, meaning users can handle a wider variety of data types with one storage server. Most SAN (storage area network) products have dealt with block information, while NAS (network attached storage) servers funnel file-level data. Adaptec will use some of its products to help speed the flow of data through iSCSI connections and to ease the linking of SAN and NAS environments easier, said Balaji Baktha, vice president of product marketing at Adaptec.

The company showed its ANA-7711 adapter designed to handle some of the TCP/IP processing load in a server. Adaptec claims the adapter can free up much of a server's processing power by reducing the TCP/IP processing burden placed on a CPU (central processing unit). Managing TCP/IP requests can use as much as 70 percent of a CPU's clock cycle, so off-loading these tasks onto an adapter frees the processor to work on other types of data, Baktha said.

Adaptec customers are currently building products using the adapter, and users should be able to purchase the product during the first half of 2002.

Adaptec additionally demonstrated its ASA-7211 iSCSI adapter that adds iSCSI functions to an existing SAN product. The adapter will send information over iSCSI from one piece of hardware to another at 2G-bytes per second. This adapter gives users some of the key benefits associated with iSCSI such as the ability to send file-level data over an Ethernet network with a SAN server and the ease of management often linked with managing storage over the network, Baktha said.

This product is also in the hands of Adaptec customers and will be released next year.

To cap off its iSCSI demonstrations, Adaptec used its ASR-7511 adapter to link a pair of Fibre Channel SANs over an IP network. This adapter allows data sent via Fibre Channel to enter a server and then be converted into iSCSI -compatible information and sent out of the server once again.

This means that users with Fibre Channel SANs in different locations can now link their storage environments together over IP networks and make more information available to more users, Baktha said. In addition, users can also make existing SAN products more flexible with the adapter because it provides another way to pump block-level data over the network.

Adaptec is currently making this product available to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) only.

IBM Corp. and HP have been active in promoting iSCSI technology along with a number of other smaller players, as the companies hope to cash in on the move of storage onto the network. Companies are trying to make sure their iSCSI products can communicate with each other in the early stages of the standard's development. Storage vendors hope to avoid the proprietary restraints formed in the Fibre Channel world.

Additionally, companies claim that adding IP functions to storage hardware should reduce administration costs.

"Everybody knows IP," Baktha said. "There are so many more administrators who are familiar with IP than Fibre Channel, so there is no special training required to use these products."

Vendors hope these products will appeal to companies who can tap into the large pool of administrators who can manage storage over IP instead of turning to the relatively low number of Fibre Channel experts.

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