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Can you use normal LAN IP switches as the SAN layer using iSCSI?

Are LUN masking and zoning, very specific to Fibre Channel SANs? Are they available in IP-based SANs using iSCSI? If I implement a pure IP-based SAN using iSCSI, can I use normal LAN switches in the SAN as well? If I can, can I use normal LAN switches and how would I implement zoning?

This can get kind of confusing...

First of all, there is limited support from a vendor perspective on actual iSCSI-based storage arrays. This has delegated current iSCSI implementations to the host side. By the host side, I mean the host will use iSCSI to connect to Fibre Channel-based storage arrays using a bridge between the IP network and the Fibre Channel network. What's needed to make iSCSI run fast is something called a TOE. TOE stands for "TCP/IP Offload Engine" and there are network cards and host bus adapters that have this implemented in hardware. Using a TOE decreases the need for CPU cycles on the server to process the IP network interrupts and packaging of SCSI blocks into iSCSI frames. Using a card inside the server with a TOE, all your I/O requests for block-based access to storage are "re-directed" out through the IP network.

Ok, so that was a primer on where we are with iSCSI. So how do you do zoning and LUN masking if no one is using an HBA with a worldwide name in the fabric from the host side? In an iSCSI environment, there is something called an iSNS name server that gets implemented usually in the bridge that connects the IP network to the FC network. In the bridge (like a Nishan switch) every node connected using an iSCSI adapter gets a "fully qualified" network name. I spoke with Nishan to get some information on how this is implemented in the switch. When any device is connected to the iSCSI bridge the iSNS name server tracks the name of the node connected, the IP address of the node and any LUN information coming in from the storage ports.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent white paper on the subject of iSNS zoning from the Nishan Web site:

"iSNS is designed to be a lightweight discovery protocol that can be deployed in iSNS servers, IP storage switches and target devices. Features include facilities for registration, discovery and management of IP storage resources as well as zoning and state change management. The name registration service enables IP storage devices to register their attributes and addresses in a manner analogous to Fibre Channel SNS. Initiators then can query the iSNS to identify potential targets. Zoning functionality is provided by Discovery Domains, which restrict the discovery of IP storage targets to authorized functional groups. State change notification alerts iSNS clients to any change in status of a registered device or reconfiguration of the client's Discovery Domain." You can read the whole white paper here.

So to answer your question on whether you can use normal LAN IP switches as the SAN layer using iSCSI, the answer is yes with a qualification that since the storage may not be iSCSI compliant yet, you would need something like a Nishan switch to provide the bridging between your iSCSI-based hosts and your Fibre channel-based storage.


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Dig Deeper on Ethernet storage

ISCSI TCP/IP TOE card purchase considerations ISCSI SANs are quickly gaining acceptance in small business and enterprise environments, but the benefits of iSCSI are often tempered by performance limitations when iSCSI storage traffic is added on top of everyday user LAN traffic. One means of improving iSCSI traffic performance is to include TOE (TCI/IP Offload Engine) capability on the Ethernet card itself. An iSCSI TOE allows the network adapter to process iSCSI traffic locally -- relieving those processing tasks from the host server or other computers connected to the LAN. To implement this capability, iSCSI servers must be upgraded with Ethernet NICs that include a TOE chip onboard. It's important to consider the available ports, host interface, and other card characteristics before making a purchase. In addition, the TOE card should fully support the traffic types handled on each server. This segment covers the specific considerations involved in iSCSI TOE card selection, and you'll find a series of specifications to help make on-the-spot product comparisons between vendors.

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