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Firm to offer low-cost iSCSI controller, HBAs

Kevin Komiega

Moving storage with the iSCSI protocol has been heralded as easier and cheaper than constructing a Fibre Channel SAN. But is iSCSI as cheap as vendors claim, or does it come closer to a Fibre Channel price tag than they would have you believe?

The main promise of building storage area networks (SANs) with TCP/IP technology has been cost savings. The cost of high-performance storage networks running iSCSI may have been underestimated, however. According to some experts, making iSCSI SANs run at a reasonable pace requires a lot of processing power and add-on technology, like TCP/IP offload engines (TOES) and other specialized silicon chips. The more components you add to the mix, the closer the price of iSCSI gets to that of its faster Fibre Channel competitor.

Now, a Santa Clara, Calif., firm called iReady Corp. aims to change all that with a new, integrated iSCSI controller and a family of iSCSI host bus adapters (HBAs) that cost less than half that of competing iSCSI technology.

Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst for the Taneja Group, said that one of the main criticisms of iSCSI to date is that, once a TOE-based network interface card (NIC) is added to the equation, iSCSI is just as expensive as Fibre Channel. He said that integrated silicon from companies like iReady would eliminate the arguments against iSCSI performance and cost barriers.

"In the chip business, it always comes down to how strong your integration

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is. If you can take five functionalities and put them on one chip, it's a heck of a lot better and [more cost effective]," Taneja said.

Taneja said that iReady can offer its iSCSI technology at a lower price than its competitors. The firm has a fully integrated chip, and it is expecting to move large quantities of its products.

"Lower pricing attracts more buyers, which keeps costs down," he said.

According to iReady, its ethernetMAX iSCSI controller integrates hardware iSCSI acceleration, TCP/IP offload, IPsec, and a GigabitMAC and GigabitPHY into a single semiconductor. On the HBA side of the house, iReady's product family includes the IR-1011LC iSCSI Storage Adapter, the IR-1011C Secure Storage Adapter and the IR-1011F Secure Storage Adapter for optical networks.

Most of the chip makers, including QLogic Corp., Alacritech Inc., Adaptec Inc. and others, will move toward more integrated chip technology, according to Taneja, but they already have brand new products on the market, so it may be six to nine months before they release new iSCSI technologies.

"The question you would ask is how quickly the incumbents will bring out their next chip[s]. They usually want to get mileage out of their first-generation chips," he said.

Ryo Koyama, co-founder and CEO, said that the economics of Ethernet are the key to the widespread acceptance of TOEs and iSCSI, and that iReady keeps costs down because its chip is simple by design.

"The price points drop, and all of a sudden the purchasing decision has shifted from [the] CIO's desk to the IT manager's desk," Koyama said.

The EthernetMAX controller will be generally available in the third quarter of 2003 for $75 at volume OEM pricing. The iReady HBAs will be generally available in the third quarter at volume OEM pricing of --> 9 for the IR-1011LC iSCSI Storage Adapter, $299 for the copper IR-1011C Secure Storage Adapter, and $399 for the fiber IR-1011F Secure Storage Adapter for optical networks.

The iSCSI specification finished its long journey toward ratification last February when the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) approved the protocol, which transports SCSI packets over TCP/IP.

The Storage Networking Industry Association's IP Storage Forum has made some bold predictions on the future of the technology. In a December article for SearchStorage.com, the group said that iSCSI storage products will flood the market in early 2003, and that iSCSI SAN deployments will follow, along with further widespread iSCSI adoption during the second half of the year.

SNIA predicted that almost every operating system will have support for iSCSI by the end of 2003 and that most will actually have it by the end of June 2003. The way vendors are rolling out support, they could be right, according to experts.

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Let us know what you think about the story. E-mailKevin Komiega, News Writer

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