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Silicon chip makers buoyed by iSCSI

A myriad of storage startups and established vendors have all hit the streets with the same message: now that iSCSI is ready, it's time for storage-specific silicon products.

A month after the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) announced the iSCSI standard was complete, a slew of silicon chip makers has anted up and thrown their respective products into the IP storage ring.

In attempts to make iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) effective and to gain market share among small and medium-sized businesses, vendors have found ways around the performance issues that surround the technology. Transmitting storage traffic over IP networks can create heavy network loads and push CPUs to their limits.

Enter silicon chips. Vendors are designing special chips and adapter boards aimed at easing CPU loads and speeding throughput in IP storage networks.

In recent weeks, three companies have introduced products aimed at speeding IP storage network traffic. Agilent Technologies Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.; Trebia Networks Inc., Acton, Mass.; and Astute Networks, San Diego, are racing to get their storage-specific silicon products into the market.

The iSCSI protocol sends SCSI storage commands over an IP network and is used on servers, storage devices and protocol gateways, like Ethernet switches and routers. The TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) is a technology embedded in the adapter board that offloads TCP/IP processing from the host microprocessor and operating system. A TOE reduces CPU overhead and network latency, while increasing system throughput.

Agilent Technologies introduced a pair of IP storage adapter boards that provide iSCSI and TCP/IP offload support. The Agilent 1G bit/sec, low-profile PCI adapters are targeted at 1U and 2U server chassis in high-density, rack-mount server environments. In addition to enterprise servers, the adapters were designed to be used in redundant array of independent disks (RAID) and just a bunch of disks (JBOD) solutions to source and store data.

The Agilent ANIC-2101A and ANIC-2103A adapter boards enable manufacturers to deliver block and file storage data over Ethernet networks, speeding the installation of network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SANs).

Enterprise Storage Group Inc. analyst Arun Taneja puts TOEs and storage network processors in separate categories.

TOEs, he said, are driven by the iSCSI movement, while some processor products were built with Fibre Channel in mind.

"This is like the maturation of the networking market. Everybody did their own versions and rolled out everything from scratch," Taneja said. "Then in the second generation, we started to see the common merchant chip vendors bring in comprehensive chips. On the storage side, we're kind of babes in the woods."

Silicon specialist Trebia Networks announced a set of storage network processing products that boost the performance of IP SANs. Applicable to both network switches and storage endpoints, they include the SNP-1000, for systems requiring IP Storage to Fibre Channel connectivity; the SNP-1000i, for applications requiring a TOE; and the SNP-500, for applications that need full iSCSI TOE processing.

Trebia's SNP products are integrated system-on-silicon solutions that feature embedded protocol processing firmware, a software driver for API-level interaction with the chip and a software development kit supporting both the VxWorks and Linux operating systems.

Another silicon storage developer, Astute Networks, debuted its own flavor of storage processor supporting the iSCSI, Fibre Channel, TCP/IP and FCIP protocols. Dubbed "Pericles," the chip allows storage OEMs to build systems that provide virtualization, redundancy management, high availability, on-demand capacity, and bandwidth allocation within the storage area network (SAN) fabric, according to Astute.

Astute said its processor accelerates any storage protocol as well as the functions used to support virtualization, synchronous and asynchronous mirroring, snapshot, failover, and real-time traffic monitoring.

Sean Lavey, senior research analyst in International Data Corp.'s communications semiconductor group, said that the influx of silicon storage products is clearly in line with the progress of iSCSI within the standards bodies.

He said that iSCSI solutions delivered to the market today need to be cost-reduced. Enter the TOEs and chips.

"There's a lot of startup activity out there," Lavey said. "Some vendors are using multiple processors and some are using hard-wired [technology]."

Lavey predicts that the next generation of storage-specific silicon will be a hybrid version using both software and hard-wired TOEs. "Vendors are realizing that they have to ride the fence on both architectures," he said.

"The problem within the industry is getting the initial systems deployed so you can finish the ecology around iSCSI," said Bob Hanson, director of strategic marketing for Agilent Technologies. "We won't see any kind of volume ramp of iSCSI until the end of 2003 and maybe even early 2004.

"With the iSCSI 1.0 standard, we have something that's going to work very well as long as you design your network for the load you're going to handle."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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