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SAN’s Simplified

Fibre Channel is fast but it’s also expensive, enough that small to midsized enterprises often shudder at the price. In contrast, iSCSI lets you run a SAN with the network you already have. It demands none of the expensive cabling that Fibre does, much less the high learning curve or special training.

“You use existing infrastructure,” says Peter Cmaylo, senior vice president of business development at iStor, which makes iSCSI controllers for storage providers, VARs, and OEMs. “It’s much easier to use from a manageability perspective.”

And like Fibre Channel, it lets you attach dozens or even hundreds of servers to a limitless number of targets, using any OS, including Microsoft, Linux, Unix, and Solaris.

Simple SANs

iStor was founded by brothers Frank and Simon Huang in February 2002. Frank Huang is an engineer whose R&D team holds 27 issued or pending patents. He was also the founder of Vertex Networks, sold to Mitel in 2000.

Simon Huang is an expert in Fibre Channel, RAID, and ATA ASIC and was also the founder of storage firm CMD Technology, sold to Silicone Image in June 2001. No less the businessman than his brother, Simon was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award from 1991 to 1993.

In November iStor released its flagship product, the GigaStorATX. This multiport iSCSI-SATA storage controller is the industry’s first to condense major SAN functions into an SoC (System on a Chip), the iSNP8000. By losing the software and components that most iSCSI makers rely on, iStor’s SoC solutions gain speed; to wit, the GigaStorATX offers full 10Gbps iSCSI.

It also comes in three versions for OEMs, system integrators, and storage providers. The first, the GSATX408, sports up to four ports for eight SATA drives. The second, the GSATX416, has four ports as well but can accommodate 16 drives. And the third, the GSATX816, has up to eight ports for 16 drives. Each conforms to ATX standards, too. (Short for Advanced Technology eXtended, ATX is a common design standard for today’s motherboards. It was first released by Intel and offers a more efficient layout than its predecessor, the Baby AT, by putting the CPU closer to the fan, among other improvements.)

iStor plans to release a second product, the GigaStorHA, in the fourth quarter. It builds on the base features of the GigaStorATX but offers a custom form factor and high availability through RMC (Remote Memory Channel) features. It can also connect to SAS devices, which improves over old-school parallel SCSI by allowing up to 128 device connections with full-duplex signals.

Is Smaller Better?

The power—not to mention the ease—of iSCSI has lured a number of marquee names into the field, including giants such as EMC, Network Appliance, and HP, to name only a few. But according to Cmaylo, firms that focus solely on iSCSI may have an advantage that juggernauts don’t. The smaller vendors aren’t invested in keeping, much less growing, their accounts with existing Fibre Channel customers.

“What they don’t want to do,” says Cmaylo, referring to large storage manufacturers, “is impact Fibre Channel revenue. They’re very careful about positioning iSCSI into the enterprise because that’s where their revenue is.”

And as for speed concerns—in most deployments, Fibre Channel tends to outperform iSCSI—Cmaylo notes that breakneck Ethernet deployments at 10Gbps can trump standard 4Gbps Fibre Channel SANs. “We can give you performance storage for what you pay for what people now call ‘good enough’ storage.”

The result? iSCSI is here to stay—and growing. SANs that set up quickly, trump DAS and NAS for speed, yet cost half the price of Fibre Channel can be used for everything from data-intensive enterprise apps to disaster recovery, not to mention such sought-after functions as serverless backup. In a 2005 survey of SMEs, Enterprise Strategy Group found that 17% of respondents already had iSCSI SANs in the production environment, and more than 40% planned to implement them by mid-2006.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 25th, 2006 at 1:25 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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