By Dave Simpson
Yet another sign that iSCSI may be ready for prime time later this year, QLogic—one of the two largest vendors of Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs)—recently released chips and HBAs that offload iSCSI, TCP/IP, and IP Security (IPSec) protocol processing from host CPUs. Currently under evaluation at QLogic's OEMs, the products are expected to reach end users about midyear.
Cards that offload iSCSI, TCP/IP, and/or IPSec processing to dedicated I/O hardware are a higher-performance alternative to software stacks that chew up CPU cycles. And iSCSI-based storage area networks (SANs), which enable the transport of block-level storage commands over standard TCP/IP-Ethernet networks, represent an alternative to Fibre Channel SANs and direct-attached storage.
"QLogic jumping into the iSCSI fray will have quite an impact because new markets are created by a small number of big players—not by start-ups," says Arun Taneja, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group consulting firm. "QLogic has a lot of credibility in large IT shops and with the big OEMs."
However, Taneja does not expect appreciable end-user adoption of iSCSI SANs until late this year.
QLogic's chips and boards (see sidebar for product details) will compete with products from vendors such as Adaptec, Agilent, Alacritech, and Intel. Emulex is expected to enter the market later this year.
According to Frank Berry, vice president of corporate marketing, QLogic hopes to differentiate its products in three primary areas:
- The HBAs use a "full-offload" approach to iSCSI and TCP/IP protocol processing, as opposed to "partial-offload" approaches (such as Alacritech's) that leave some processing up to the host CPU;
QLogic's iSCSI HBAs share a common API set with the company's Fibre Channel HBAs and are compatible with Windows, Linux, and Solaris platforms.
Full offload versus partial offload promises to be one of the more contentious issues in the iSCSI TOE market. However, until the full-offload boards reach end users and comparative tests are run, analysts say that it's impossible to accurately assess the various claims regarding performance and CPU utilization.
Nevertheless, sheer momentum seems to be in favor of the full-offload approach. "With most of the players going with full-offload designs, that's probably where most of the market will go," says Taneja.
Other IP storage announcements
QLogic's iSCSI announcement comes amid a number of other IP storage-related releases, indicating that end-user adoption may be coming later this year. For example, at Comdex, McData demonstrated an IP storage blade that will support iSCSI and FC-IP for SAN extension over WANs. The blades will be available for McData's director-class switches—which now support only Fibre Channel—in the second half of the year, according to Bob Williamsen, senior director of strategic marketing at McData.
Cybernetics has selected Alacritech's 1000x1 single-port Ethernet and storage accelerator cards for its iSAN family of tape subsystems, which are designed for IP SAN environments. Alacritech's cards (which the company refers to as Integrated Storage Network Interface Cards, or IS-NICs) include a TOE and support for iSCSI.
At the low end of the iSCSI market, ATTO Technology is shipping an Ethernet-to-SCSI bridge that enables connection of SCSI devices to TCP/IP Ethernet networks via iSCSI. The iPBridge 2500C is priced at about $4,500 and includes two Gigabit Ethernet ports and two Ultra320 SCSI ports, as well as support for the Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP).
QLogic's host bus adapters can offload TCP/IP, iSCSI, and IP Security processing from the host CPU.
Click here to enlarge image
QLogic's chips, HBAs at a glance....
- ISP3010 TCP Offload Engine (TOE)—single-chip PCI-X-to-1Gbps Ethernet TOE that accelerates performance of TCP/IP traffic while freeing up CPU cycles. Uses a state-based design scalable to 10Gbps. Can be used in place of network interface chips in network adapters, servers, and NAS systems.
- ISP4010 iSCSI Offload Engine (iSOE)—single-chip PCI-X-to-1Gbps Ethernet engine that accelerates performance of TCP/IP and iSCSI traffic. Supports network and storage traffic. Can be used in place of SCSI or Fibre Channel chips in HBAs, disk arrays, tape subsystems, and storage routers.
- ISPSEC1000 Security Offload Engine (SOE)—single chip .that accelerates IPSec performance. Can be used in conjunction with the ISP3010 and 4010.
"SANblade" HOST BUS ADAPTERS
- QLA3010—PCI-X-to-1Gbps Ethernet TOE network adapter for server connectivity to an Ethernet network.
- QLA3040—PCI-X-to-1Gbps Ethernet TOE adapter with IPSec offloading.
QLogic also introduced SANsurfer 2.0 software for installing and managing the company's Fibre Channel and iSCSI adapters.