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Most industry watchers expect iSCSI to help users connect second- and third-tier servers into SANs that have been previously reserved for only critical applications. iSCSI will also help smaller firms implement SANs for the first time over their existing network infrastructure without needing to install Fibre Channel equipment.

In the lingo of the IETF--the organization shepherding this protocol--iSCSI is a "proposed" standard. That means "it's been agreed upon by an IETF working group, it's complete and secure and has its bases covered," says Mark Bakke, who is a technology leader with Cisco's Storage Technology Group and also sits on the iSCSI TWG.

It's at this point that vendors go out and implement, and "we find out how well all the products work together," Bakke says.

The next level up is considered a "draft" standard, and its function is to clean up any bugs, remove any optional pieces that nobody implemented and other housekeeping tasks. "There's no big rush to do it and there are no current plans to advance iSCSI to a draft standard, but I expect we will because the standard is so popular," Bakke explains.

He says there are many products with iSCSI included because the core functions of the protocol "haven't changed in two years." From an operational standpoint, the products based on iSCSI have remained constant for the past several revisions.

That said, there

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are some new things to watch for. One is a layer that defines how iSCSI can run over InfiniBand or over Remote Direct Memory Access, so the IP network can handle the same kind of high-bandwidth, low-latency applications that traditionally have required more expensive alternatives.

Other pieces will relate to various management information bases (MIBs)--in other words, defining modules to plug into the Simple Network Management Protocol and that gather network-related statistics about and from different types of gear. Those MIBs will come out at the end of this year, Bakke says. And there will be a mechanism to boot diskless devices over iSCSI that Cisco, for one, is already supporting but isn't yet official.

Taken as a group, it's still an open question if these standards will make storage managers' jobs easier anytime soon or simply serve to complicate what can be an already convoluted situation. Then again, that may be an argument better left for another day.

This was first published in October 2004

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