IP storage (including iSCSI, iFCP, and FCIP) has moved from emerging technology to end-user deployments.
By David Dale
This has been an exciting year for IP storage, as the industry has gone from protocols to standards-based interoperable products and end-user deployments. This article reviews progress to date and previews what to expect over the next six months.
IP storage refers to block storage over Ethernet and consists of three basic protocols: Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI), Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP), and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP).
iSCSI is a means of transporting SCSI packets over TCP/IP, providing for Ethernet-based storage area networks (SANs). iSCSI solutions consist of iSCSI initiators in servers connected to iSCSI targets (storage systems) over a standard Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure (switches and cables). iSCSI is particularly interesting for storage consolidation, where simplicity, flexibility, and price/performance are critical IT decision factors, as well as for cost-effective backup and disaster-recovery solutions. iSCSI initiators can also be connected to Fibre Channel SANs via IP storage switches or routers.
iFCP and FCIP enable the encapsulation of frames between Fibre Channel SANs through gateways that are interconnected over TCP/IP networks. iFCP is a TCP/IP-based protocol for interconnecting Fibre Channel storage devices or Fibre Channel SANs using an IP infrastructure. iFCP solutions consist of Fibre Channel end points (SANs or devices) connected to a shared or dedicated IP network by means of iFCP gateways, enabling networked connections between SANs. iFCP is particularly well-suited to providing reliable transport of storage data between SAN domains via TCP/IP LANs, MANs, or WANs.
FCIP is a TCP/IP tunneling protocol that transparently provides point-to-point connections between geographically distributed Fibre Channel SANs using FCIP gateways to connect to an IP network. It is well-suited to providing connectivity to remote SANs for backup and restore or remote data replication applications.
The benefits shared by these solutions derive from the cost, flexibility, manageability, distance, and familiarity advantages associated with Ethernet networking technology.
2003 in review
This year, IP storage went from emerging technology to standards-based products available from a wide range of vendors, both established players and start-ups.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) early this year ratified the three core IP storage specifications. The IETF IP Storage Working Group announced the approval of FCIP and iFCP in late January, and iSCSI in February.
The approval of these standards was a significant milestone for the industry in that vendors were then able to finalize products under development in conformance with the ratified specifications. The pace of product announcements has been accelerating throughout the year.
A number of these products were demonstrated at the Storage Networking World conference and exhibition in April, and even more demonstrations are expected at next month's SNW (Orlando, Oct. 26-29).
Participants in the April SNW demonstrations included Adaptec, Cisco, CNT, Crossroads, Eurologic, FalconStor, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Network Appliance, NEC, Nishan Systems, QLogic, SANRAD, Spectra Logic, StoneFly Networks, StoreAge Networking Technologies, Trebia Networks, and Veritas.
Products demonstrated included iSCSI controllers, host bus adapters (HBAs), disk arrays, tape drives/libraries, software initiators, and virtualization products, as well as IP storage switches and routers, controllers, IP SAN management products, storage provisioning products, and backup and restore solutions.
A big impetus to iSCSI deployment came in June when Microsoft released iSCSI software drivers for its Windows 2000 client and server versions, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 platforms. Other operating system vendors are also onboard (i.e., iSCSI software initiators are available for both Linux and NetWare).
There has been a great deal of focus on IP storage interoperability since work on the specifications began. For example, four major iSCSI "plugfests" have been held at the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Lab, with very positive results. The consensus is that iSCSI initiators and targets will plug and play just like other Ethernet components.
A measure of this success could be seen in the IP Storage Interop Demonstration at SNW in April, where seven application demonstrations featuring equipment from 14 vendors were interconnected via a standard Gigabit Ethernet switch.
Users are looking for more cost-effective ways to accomplish storage consolidation, backup and restore, and disaster recovery. However, since IP storage is based on new technologies, users are looking for assurances that different vendors' products have been thoroughly tested for interoperability. Vendors typically address this with their own testing programs. For example Microsoft has created an iSCSI Designed for Windows logo program to enable hardware vendors to qualify their Windows-based iSCSI devices.
We are also starting to see iSCSI pre-qualification programs from third-party testing labs, which enable iSCSI initiator and target vendors to qualify their products.
As a result of this progress, end users have begun deploying IP storage solutions (see "iSCSI gains a toehold in the SAN market," InfoStor, April 2003, p. 18, and "Microsoft spurs iSCSI adoption," August 2003, p. 1). And IP storage deployments are expected to accelerate for the rest of the year as users get comfortable with the technology and more vendors release IP storage products.
The momentum behind IP storage will continue to build. The big news will be more and more customer deployments, but also expect to see further progress with the technical and marketing activities within the IP storage community.
On the technical front, focus has moved from the core protocols to ancillary protocols and APIs that will enable large-scale IP storage deployments and integration of IP storage into the standards-based management framework—a central focus for the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA.)
The iSNS (Internet Storage Name Server) is a new mechanism that provides registry and discovery of IP and Fibre Channel devices.
It is particularly important for iFCP because it enables device discovery by an iFCP gateway. iSNS is now in the final stages of the IETF ratification process.
Also nearing completion is the iSCSI Management API (IMA), which will be the basis for integrating iSCSI device support into SNIA's Storage Management Initiative.
On the marketing side, the SNIA IP Storage Forum has an aggressive agenda for the next six months. The IP Storage Forum (IPS Forum) was formed in 2001 to market and promote standards-based block storage networking solutions using IP networks. The forum provides white papers, educational materials, interoperability demonstrations, and programs to drive awareness and support of IP-based storage networking solutions.
IT outreach/education prOgram
The focus over the next six months will be to supplement the existing "how the technology works" materials with more "how to use it" information and execute an extensive IT outreach and education program. Components of this program include a demo at the SNIA Technology Center and a traveling demo for trade shows and seminars; a series of half-day IP storage seminars at cities across the US targeted at end users; and new tutorials, white papers, and primers focused on deployment scenarios.
For more information about the IP Storage Forum and upcoming events, check out www.ipstorage.org.
IP storage represents an opportunity for companies to accelerate their transition from direct-attached to networked storage by enabling cost-effective storage consolidation, data-protection, and disaster-recovery solutions that leverage their existing investment in Ethernet infrastructure and expertise.
Over the past nine months, IP storage has gone from emerging technology to end-user deployment.
The next six months will see a significant acceleration in the deployment of IP storage solutions, with the IP storage community hard at work to expand and enable that deployment.
David Dale is the acting marketing chair of the SNIA IP Storage Forum, and an industry evangelist at Network Appliance. For more information about SNIA, go to www.snia.org.