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iSCSI's coming out party

Cisco Systems took the wraps off its storage networking initiatives and its iSCSI router, the first to hit the market, at the Storage Networking World Conference in Palm Desert, Calif. on Monday. But, the networking giant was not the only company during the show to put its support behind the controversial standard.

PALM DESERT, Calif.--The iSCSI standard has gotten a major push.

Networking giant Cisco Systems took the storage plunge here at the Storage Networking World conference Monday, by announcing the Cisco SN 5420 iSCSI storage router and detailing its Storage Networking Initiative.

The SN 5420, the first iSCSI router to hit the market, uses the emerging Internet Small Computer Systems Interface, or iSCSI, protocol to let users access Fibre Channel SANs through IP-based network interface cards (NICs). The SN 5420 accesses pools of Fibre Channel storage any where on an (IP) network as if they were accessing storage locally.

According to Cisco, the SN 5420 networking platform enables applications like storage consolidation, remote data backup, and archiving to tape.

Cisco will also make its source code freely available to hasten the development of iSCSI drivers. The company said through a partnership with Microsoft iSCSI drivers will be available directly in the next version of Windows.

Cisco is not the only storage player throwing its weight behind an iSCSI standard. Also at Storage Networking World, Network Appliance, Inc. announced that it is officially endorsing iSCSI technology, while Intel has taken a tack similar to that of Cisco by making its open-source reference software freely available to storage device vendors to aide in developing products such as switches, routers and adapters.

The biggest benefit of iSCSI and IP storage is that it lets businesses leverage their existing IP infrastructure and eliminates the need to train IT staffers in new technologies like the training required to manage Fibre Channel storage area networks (SANs). Security is another issue on the minds of IT managers. With iSCSI, users can run all of the standard encryption products for security like IPSEC, LUN Masking, VLANs, and ACL.

Cisco's move into storage is both a blessing and a curse for newly found competitors in the storage landscape. Its deep relationship with Brocade, for example, may prove a complicated situation as Cisco's knowledge and success in storage grows over time.

"Brocade should be both elated and frightened that Cisco decided to attack this market space," said William Hurley, program manager for Boston-based analyst firm, The Yankee Group. "Having Cisco on board will accelerate the iSCSI standard." Hurley explained that as Cisco learns more about storage from technologies like Brocade's FabricOS, it will become a force to be reckoned with in the storage market.

Cisco worked with IBM to formulate and propose the iSCSI protocol, or SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) over IP to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Though critics are quick to point out the lack of definition of the iSCSI standard, there are more than 250 companies are "actively driving" iSCSI towards draft-standard status in the IETF. Several companies, including IBM, Network Appliance, Intel and Emulex, have announced storage and server products that support iSCSI.

"A close alliance with the reseller and systems integrator communities is a key factor in Cisco successfully entering the storage market," said Mark Cree, general manager of the Storage Router Business Unit at Cisco. Cisco has to date qualified more than 60 resellers and systems integrators to resell the SN5420.

As part of the Cisco AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video, and Integrated Data) Partner Program, Cisco has formed close working relationships with companies in differing storage sectors like subsystems, storage management, storage networking, and system I/O technologies. Specifically, Cisco has been working with Alacritech, Brocade, EMC, Emulex, IBM, Intel, Network Appliance, and Veritas by backing standards, and developing and testing storage solutions.

The Cisco SN 5420 Storage Router will be available in North America and Europe and is expected to hit the streets later this month for $27,000.

The timeframe for the completion of the iSCSI standard varies depending on which company you ask. Cisco believes the standard will come to fruition sometime between August and December of 2001, while Network Appliance is predicting early 2002.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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