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IP storage gets silicon boost from Adaptec

Adaptec is making available to its OEM customers, application-specific integrated chips that make it easier for vendors to implement IP storage support within their product lines.

Adaptec's first application-specific integrated circuits designed for IP storage are now generally available to OEM customers, the company has announced. The chips, which include the Storage Protocol Accelerator (SPA) and Storage Router Accelerator (SRA), should make it easier for vendors to implement IP storage support within their product lines.

ADIC, Inrange and NEC are among the first announced customers. With initial products likely to reach the market during the first half of next year, the IP storage networking window is opening now, says analyst Arun Taneja of the Enterprise Storage Group. "Whoever gets design wins during this early adoption phase can claim important market share," he says.

Interest in running storage protocols over IP networks has been mounting over the last year or so, despite the generally conservative nature of storage system buyers. Advocates say that using existing Ethernet-based infrastructure should ultimately work out to be much cheaper than fiber channel deployments, with other payoffs in ease of management, due to easier software integration with current IP-based software.

However, there are still issues to solve. IP networks aren't designed for the block-level traffic used by storage systems, and latency can occur. Security issues also become more crucial when running storage traffic over IP. Adaptec, Cisco, IBM and others have been working on new protocols that run on top of IP to help solve some of these problems ? including iSCSI, which enables the established SCSI protocol to operate on top of IP. The work is being carried out at the Storage Networking Industry Association's IP Storage Forum.

Seeking to protect its huge market share in SCSI adapters, Adaptec agreed to acquire Platys Communications for $150m in July. Platys had already developed high-speed ASICs for iSCSI. About 75 engineers came with the acquisition. Ram Jayam, CEO and cofounder of Platys, is now VP and general manager of Adaptec's storage networking group. Adaptec is currently working in three related iSCSI areas: end-to-end iSCSI connectivity for storage area networks, fiber channel extension and routing for switches, and iSCSI and TCP/IP connectivity for network-attached storage boxes.

The SPA ASIC, code-named Northstar, is for OEMs looking to provide integrated support for iSCSI in storage and server platforms. It offloads and accelerates the iSCSI protocol from the host, reducing CPU utilization and freeing up system resources. Initially it will operate at 1Gbps speeds, but the technology is scalable to 10Gbps. Without offload, claims Adaptec, more than half of a server's CPU can be consumed by TCP/IP protocol processing at 1Gbps speeds. Network-attached storage is one of the key areas for this chip.

In contrast, the SRA chip, code-named Vega, is aimed at director-class switches that can bridge fiber channel and iSCSI storage area networks (SANs) over wide area Ethernet networks. It can also be used to connect FC SANs or devices to iSCSI SANs (or vice versa) directly. Both were originally developed by Platys.

Hewlett-Packard was one of the first announced OEMs for Adaptec's iSCSI host bus adapters back in July, and Adaptec is also working with NEC Japan for HBAs to use with NEC servers and external storage devices. Customers for the new ASIC chips include ADIC, which says it will be designing the SPA into its automated tape libraries and storage appliances so that they can operate within iSCSI SANs, and Inrange, which will use the SRA in its IN-VSN FC/9000 high-end switches.

Adaptec appears to pushing the adoption of iSCSI more strongly than its major competitor in the SCSI adapter world, LSI Logic. Others in this market include Emulex (first products due this quarter) and QLogic, with Intel and Broadcom likely to introduce products later on. More specialist competition comes from startup Alacritech, which recently introduced its 1000x1 Server and Storage Accelerator, a network interface card that accelerates both IP storage and standard Ethernet traffic.

IBM launched its first iSCSI array, the IP Storage 200i, at the end of last month, although it's focusing early sales on the Windows NT market sector, rather than the more conservative Unix host users, who typically aren't ready to take the risk yet. But iSCSI momentum is building rapidly as both new and established players jump on the bandwagon. Adaptec's acquisition of Platys in July now looks like a smart move as a way to protect and extend its current SCSI business.

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