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iSCSI gets Intel stamp of approval

With its introduction of an iSCSI-based IP storage adapter, Intel's backing of iSCSI is likely to fuel acceptance for IP over storage technology. The move also gives credence to other players, such as IBM and Cisco, who compete in the iSCSI space.

A move by Intel Corp. to back iSCSI technology is likely to fuel support for Internet Protocol (IP) as a networking standard and validates the efforts of IBM, Cisco and other players already competing in the iSCSI space.

The chipmaker is set to introduce later this year the PRO/1000 T IP Storage adapter, which is designed to make networked storage easier and less expensive by using Ethernet technology to build interoperable storage area networks (SANs). The adapter uses the iSCSI (Internet Small Computer Systems Interface) specification to carry data traffic over existing Ethernet networks.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel says it is backing iSCSI because it believes over time it will be adopted by the industry as the way to handle IP storage. Other specifications vying for standard status include iFCP, iSNS, FCIP, and mFCP all of which are IP-based storage networking specifications that address the architectural requirements of merging traditional SCSI and Fibre Channel storage with IP networking.

"Intel's presence in the market is further evidence that IP storage in general is making rapid progress toward market acceptance, and the iSCSI standard in particular will become the IP storage networking standard," said John Webster, an analyst with the N.H.-based research firm Illuminata.

Proponents say IP storage promises flexible, manageable storage networks at a cheaper price than Fibre Channel. As an extension of an Ethernet network, network administrators can use the same utilities to manage the entire network, including storage farms.

The new adapter is being beta tested by storage device manufacturers, including Cisco and IBM.

The PRO/1000 T operates at speeds up to Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbps) and includes an additional controller that offloads storage requests from the host system processor to help improve system performance.

According to Webster, the Intel product is a hybrid of a host bus adapter (HBA), an I/O adapter that connects a host I/O bus to a computer's memory system, and a network interface card (NIC), which is a computer circuit board or card that connects a computer to a network.

Webster said three categories of products are emerging to interface iSCSI storage networks to application hosts. One approach is through standard NICs with drivers modified to include the code required to process the TCP/IP plus iSCSI protocol stacked on the application host. According to Webster, however, this method is the most costly in terms of the percentage of the host processor required, if wire speeds of 1GB and higher are to be achieved.

Another approach is through HBAs that off-load most of the required protocol processing to specialized HBA-resident processors. This method relieves the application host of up to 90% of the protocol processing requirements.

Intel has taken the third approach with a hybrid of an HBA and a NIC that off-loads most of the protocol stack processing to processors residing on the interface adapter, said Webster.

The Enterprise Storage Group, a storage analyst firm based in Milford, Mass., estimates that the iSCSI sector will surpass that of Fibre Channel.

Steve Duplessie, founder of the Enterprise Storage Group said those who have not implemented a Fibre Channel SAN will hop onto the iSCSI bandwagon while the large data centers that have SANs in place will not go the iSCSI route. "The benefit to mid-market [users] is that they will get most of the benefits of a Fibre SAN, without the cost or complexity,? he said.

Duplessie added that because iSCSI has mass-market appeal it makes complete sense that Intel hop in. He expects Intel will build iSCSI HBAs and target channel adapters (TCAs) for Infiniband.

"That means Intel sees this as a mass market opportunity, and it validates the efforts of Cisco, IBM [and the others] in the iSCSI space," he said.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, also builds I/O processors, controllers for RAID devices and bridges to server and storage device manufacturers. Companies including Cisco, IBM and Network Appliance already use high-speed Gigabit Ethernet adapters from Intel in storage devices.

Intel's marketing director for iSCSI HBA products, Blaine Kohl, said the storage vendors came to Intel and asked them to get into the iSCSI space. "IP represents a huge opportunity for every one. It was too good to pass up," said Cole.

Last month Intel said it would make the source code related to iSCSI technology available as open-source software in hopes of speeding adoption of the standard and the development of iSCSI products.

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

For more information:

Storage Networking Discussions Forum

SANs Tips

Intel tries open source for storage standard

iSCSI's coming out party

Storage over the Internet - iSCSI emerges

An architecture for a Fibre Channel fabric on an IP network

Dig Deeper on SAN technology and arrays

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