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Startup promises new SAN approach

The Storage Area Network (SAN) market is projected to reach $2.8 billion by 2003 according to Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. (IDC). However, a recent report from the Boulder, Colorado-based research firm, Enterprise Management Associates, shows that nearly half of the 100 IT managers they surveyed are not planning to implement SANs, citing a lack of standards as a serious problem.

With that problem in mind, Nishan Systems, a San Jose, Calif. startup, stated late last month that it plans to create an end-to-end SAN solution based on the existing networking standards, IP and Gigabit Ethernet. Working with its partners, Nishan will develop and introduce storage over IP (SoIP), an acronym that the firm claims as a registered trademark.

The vendor claims SoIP will combine the best features of today's SANs - high availability and performance - with the best features of IP networks - product compatibility, established standards, and scalability. At present, Nishan has not announced when products will be available.

"Nishan is one of a number of firms making moves in this area," says Dan Tanner, senior analyst for storage and storage management at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. Tanner says IBM Corp., Cisco Systems, Inc., and SanGate Systems, Inc. have proposed a standard to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) "which is essentially SCSI over IP. " Nishan, he adds, has a patent to run SCSI over native IP and might be considering linking with the IBM group.

Separately, Tanner adds, another group, involving Adaptec, Inc. Hewlett-Packard Co., 3Com Corp. and, again, IBM, has an IETF proposal that is based on adding hardware accelerators to some components or possibly implementing a "lighter weight" storage protocol. Finally, he says, Gadzoox Networks, Inc. and Lucent Technologies, Inc. have floated a proposal of their own, based upon using existing infrastructure technology for storage networking.

According to Nishan, its SoIP uses existing standards, including IP, Gigabit Ethernet, open shortest path first (OSPF), multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), and simple network management protocol (SNMP). Traditional storage system interfaces, including SCSI, Fibre Channel, and Fibre Channel - Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL), along with the forthcoming InfiniBand� interface, will be connected to the standard IP infrastructure via SoIP. Native Gigabit Ethernet SoIP adapters, followed by 10-Gigabit Ethernet SoIP adapters, will also be available for direct connection to the SoIP-based SAN, the company says.

Nishan also announced that it has signed investment agreements with a number of top storage and computer companies. These investments bring Nishan's total funding from leading corporations and venture capital institutions to over $40 million. Prior rounds of financing came from venture capitalists, including Altos Ventures, ComVenture Partners LLC, Discovery Ventures, LLC, Raza Ventures LP, Sofinnova Ventures, Inc., and Weiss, Peck & Greer Venture Partners.

The company has also participated in Sun Microsystems, Inc.'s Jiro platform, an open storage management effort implementing both Java and Jini technologies that promises to enable customers to easily manage mixed environments of servers, storage and devices on a network.

Michael Adams, an industry analyst at Cambridge, Mass.- based Giga Systems, says the whole idea of SCSI over IP would be a big change in the market. "While it looks easy they will have to get a whole lot of buy-in from across the industry."

"And, I'm not convinced that that Gigabit Ethernet is optimized to handle bulk storage traffic," he adds. However, Adams admits that Cisco, which he says is an investor in Nishan and the giant in the world of networks, may be ready to jump aboard in support of SoIP once Nishan prepares the groundwork. And that kind of support could profoundly change the competitive equation.

Earls is a contributing editor in Franklin, Mass.

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