Beta users give thumbs up
BY INFOSTOR STAFF
After more than a year of drumrolls, Nishan Systems last month began shipping multi-protocol storage switches that enable end users to build native IP storage area networks (SANs). Although the Storage over IP (SoIP) switches provide an alternative to Fibre Channel, they also support existing Fibre Channel-as well as SCSI-end devices such as disk arrays and host bus adapters (HBAs). Benefits to end users include protection of SAN equipment investments and the ability to leverage existing network administration expertise, which could translate into lower SAN costs.
"Nishan's products should help lower the total cost of ownership of SANs, because you can leverage existing IP network administration skills in storage management rather than retrain personnel or hire people that understand Fibre Channel," says Dan Tanner, a senior analyst at the Boston-based Aberdeen Group consulting firm.
Tanner points out that, in its first phase of implementation, SoIP will not replace any existing infrastructure. Instead, it is likely to be phased in, preserving "legacy" Fibre Channel SANs and SCSI devices.
Nishan officials say their SoIP products will be compliant with the emerging iSCSI standard when that specification is finalized, which is expected by year-end. The iSCSI standard is under development at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and provides a means of mapping the SCSI protocol to standard IP networks. As does SoIP, iSCSI will allow the transmission of block-level (as opposed to file-level) storage traffic over standard IP networks, such as Gigabit Ethernet.
SoIP combines a number of protocols, including elements of iSCSI as well as mFCP, iFCP, and iSNS. (For more information, see "Nishan submits specs to IETF," February 2001, p. 10.)
Nishan's SoIP switches can be used to build native IP storage area networks (SANs) or to link Fibre Channel SANs over IP MANs and WANs.
To round out its vision of a "pure" native IP SAN, Nishan plans to ship SoIP HBAs later this year. The adapters will take SCSI commands from the host and translate, or map, those commands into native IP addresses at layers 3 and 4. The company expects native SoIP-or iSCSI-end devices to follow.
Users can build local SANs with Nishan's switches, connecting Fibre Channel and SCSI end systems to their existing IP network, switches, and routers. The SoIP switches also can be used to link Fibre Channel SANs over IP-based MAN or WAN networks, providing an alternative to IP tunneling approaches. Nishan claims the switches operate at wire speed (1Gbps in the case of Gigabit Ethernet).
Nishan has introduced three switches:
- The IPS (IP Storage) 1000 gateway includes two Gigabit Ethernet SAN ports and two iSCSI/iFCP Gigabit Ethernet ports to extend IP storage fabrics across MANs and WANs. Pricing had not been set at press time.
- The IPS 2000 switch includes up to six ports: two Gigabit Ethernet connections and four Ultra2 SCSI (80MBps) or Wide Ultra SCSI (40MBps) ports. Pricing starts at $10,000.
- The IPS 3000 switch has eight MultiService Interface ports, enabling users to mix Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet connections. Pricing starts at $16,000.
Nishan also debuted SANvergence Manager software for managing the SoIP devices, which is based on SNMP and Java. Pricing starts at $2,500.
A number of companies, including DNA Sciences Inc. (Fremont, CA) and Macmillan USA (Indianapolis), have been beta testing the SoIP switches over the last few months. "We wanted a tool that would allow SANs to run over native IP connections," says Eric Goldfarb, CIO/CTO at Macmillan. "The Nishan products [IPS 2000 switches] allow me to leverage my existing investments in IP infrastructure and network personnel to easily and quickly scale and optimize storage. The switches support data storage, access, backup, security, and management-without requiring my company to adopt new standards or deal with unfamiliar technologies."
Macmillan uses a combination of Fibre Channel and IP in its storage environment. Goldfarb says the SoIP switches simplify management in a SAN environment-at less cost than with Fibre Channel. He also wanted a technology "that keeps me insulated from having to choose a standard. Competitive products are proprietary, and tailoring them to fit our network requires expensive customization and a long learning curve.
I wanted to be able to use my existing team knowledge and keep the learning curve low."
DNA Sciences is testing the IPS 2000 switches on its Gigabit Ethernet corporate network, with JBOD disk arrays. According to Min Christopherson, director of IT at DNA Sciences, the SoIP switches "make sharing data storage so much easier. And implementation is trivial, unlike setting up a [Fibre Channel] SAN." Christopherson says the major business benefits of the technology include
- Cost savings in implementation ("I don't need to hire two to three SAN experts.")
- Use of existing personnel ("Existing data systems administrators can install and manage the hardware.")
- Hardware cost savings ("We don't have to purchase specialized SAN hardware.")
In addition, Christopherson says performance is "fantastic, as long as you have a Gigabit Ethernet backbone."
Nishan's SoIP debut is the first in an expected string of iSCSI-related announcements. For example, IBM was expected to begin shipments of "iSCSI-ready" disk arrays this month. Cisco is expected to ship iSCSI communications products this summer and, within the next quarter, Adaptec is expected to throw its hat into the ring with a line of HBAs.