Last month, Cisco crashed the storage networking party with shipments of the SN 5420 Storage Router, which allows IT organizations to connect Fibre Channel devices and storage area networks (SANs) over standard IP networks such as Gigabit Ethernet. The router is based on the evolving iSCSI standard, which is under development in the Inter-net Engineering Task Force (IETF). A finalized spec is expected by year-end.

iSCSI encapsulates block-level SCSI traffic and transports it over TCP/IP networks. Devices such as Cisco’s routers work with iSCSI-compliant host software drivers.

Cisco is expected to compete to varying degrees with vendors such as Com-puter Network Technology (CNT), Crossroads, Entrada, FalconStor, Lucent, Netconvergence, Nishan Sys-tems, Pirus Networks, SANcastle, and SAN Valley (see InfoStor, April 2001, p. 1).

The company hopes to differentiate itself from most of those competitors by the breadth of its product line as well as its service and support capabilities. “We will provide end-to-end solutions, not just point products that solve a particular piece of the puzzle,” says Doug Ingraham, manager of product marketing for storage networking at Cisco. “We’re the only one that can bring iSCSI, FCIP, IP, optical, and our level of worldwide support to storage networks.”

The SN 5420 is the first step in the networking giant’s plans to capture a huge chunk of the storage connectivity market. In the second half of this year, Cisco will introduce a Catalyst 6500 IP switch with a Fibre Channel blade (developed in conjunction with Brocade) that will adhere to an early version of the Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) standard. FCIP is in part an alternative to iSCSI for connecting Fibre Channel SANs over IP networks.

“Cisco’s rollout of the SN 5420 router is critical for the rapid adoption of this technology and the facilitation of SAN deployment, which has been lacking because of Fibre Channel interoperability problems,” says Richard Lee, president of Data Storage Technologies, a consulting firm in Ridge-wood, NJ.

According to Tony Prigmore, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, in Milford, MA, “Cisco’s move is very positive for the industry, in part because it enables users that haven’t yet adopted a storage networking strategy to consider a new way of doing it with a vendor they know. And it legitimizes iSCSI.”

The SN 5420 is the first fruit of Cisco’s acquisition of NuSpeed last year. On the Fibre Channel side, the router is based on QLogic’s ISP2200A Fibre Channel chips.

Cisco’s announcement came in the midst of a slew of iSCSI and FCIP-related announcements from vendors such as Adaptec, Alacritech, Brocade, CNT, Emulex, FalconStor, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Network Peripherals Inc. (NPI), Nishan, and 3ware, among others.

Not surprisingly, the SN 5420 is expensive: $27,000 for a device with one Fibre Channel port and one Gigabit Ethernet port. In contrast, Nishan’s $16,000 IPS 3000 switch has eight ports, which can be a mix of Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. (For more information on Nishan, see InfoStor, March 2001, p. 1.)

Included with the SN 5420 are security features such as access control lists (ACLs) and logical unit number (LUN) mapping, which may be particularly valuable for storage service providers (SSPs)-one of Cisco’s primary target markets. (ACLs allow administrators to control access to individual targets and LUNs by IP addresses.)

Vendors such as Cisco and Intel are delivering iSCSI source code that other vendors can use to develop software drivers. Upgrades will be available when the spec is finalized. Already, Cisco has licensed iSCSI driver code to more than 15 vendors free of charge, according to Ingraham. Cisco is currently providing iSCSI drivers for Windows NT, Solaris, and Linux.

In early performance tests, Cisco achieved a best-case 75MBps running storage traffic over a local Gigabit Ethernet network, which is close to Gigabit Ethernet’s typical throughput, according to Mark Cree, general manager of Cisco’s Storage Router Business Unit.

Those speeds are also close to Fibre Channel performance. “We are very close to the typical performance of Fibre Channel,” claims Ingraham, although Cisco officials are quick to point out that iSCSI currently does not compete with Fibre Channel.

In the initial stages, iSCSI routers will be used primarily to extend Fibre Channel SANs over MANs and WANs. But end users will eventually be able to build local SANs with end-to-end iSCSI devices. For maximum performance, however, that would require iSCSI host bus adapters (or network interface cards) that offload TCP/IP processing from the hosts, as well as iSCSI end devices such as RAID arrays.

So far, only IBM (see InfoStor, April 2001, p. 1) and 3ware are shipping “pre-iSCSI” disk arrays. A wide variety of vendors-Adaptec, Alacritech, Emulex, Intel, JNI, QLogic, and 3Com, among others-are expected to ship iSCSI HBAs/NICs by the end of the year.


At the Storage Networking World conference last month, a number of other vendors made announcements related to the evolving iSCSI and FCIP standards.

Adaptec: iSCSI HBAs

Adaptec plans to ship samples of its iSCSI HBAs to OEMs next month. Last month, Adaptec demonstrated interoperability between its AEA-7110C iSCSI HBAs and IBM’s iSCSI disk arrays. Analysts say Adaptec may have a leg up on some of its competitors in the iSCSI market because the company already sells SCSI and Fibre Channel HBAs and Ethernet NICs, and it was an early leader in the SCSI market.

The AEA-7110C is a 1Gbps, 64-bit, 66MHz Ethernet controller that offloads TCP/IP processing from the host. It operates over existing Category 5 cabling.

Brocade: iSCSI/FCIP/IB Blades

In announcing its 128-port, 2Gbps SilkWorm 12000 Fibre Channel switch last month, Brocade also said it would support iSCSI-as well as FCIP-in the switch in 2002. According to Jay Kidd, vice president of product marketing at Brocade, the iSCSI blade will be available around the middle of next year, with support for InfiniBand to follow. Brocade is reportedly going to partner with an unannounced third party to provide the iSCSI and FCIP functionality. In making the announcement, Brocade became the last of the major Fibre Channel vendors to unveil plans to support iSCSI.


CNT was one of the first vendors to enable block-level storage traffic over IP networks in what the company refers to as “SAN over IP.” Last month, CNT announced support for the FCIP, iSCSI, and InfiniBand standards.

The company’s UltraNet Edge Storage Router Model 1000 is due within the next month and will support FCIP (see diagram). The Model 2000 is due in the second half of the year and will support iSCSI. Both will be available in 1×1 or 2×2 port configurations. End users will be able to upgrade from the 1000 to the 2000 via software upgrades. An InfiniBand version (Model 3000) is due next year.

CNT hopes to differentiate its products with a buffered store-and-forward technology, which is in contrast to the “bit racing” (or “frame racing” or “packet racing”) technology used by some of its competitors. CNT’s routers will also provide guaranteed data integrity via a proprietary cyclical redundancy check; incremental session management; data streaming and incremental buffer management; Fibre Channel and IP payload matching; and load balancing.

Intel: iSCSI Drivers

Intel has released to the development community iSCSI reference drivers, initially for Linux, and is focusing on interoperability. “We want iSCSI to shine in the area of interoperability, similar to what Ethernet has been known for,” says Ahmad Zamir, senior product line marketing manager at Intel and chairman of the SNIA iSCSI Group. The iSCSI drivers are designed to help vendors of NICs and other network components develop compliant devices. Intel’s software reference implementation is available free of charge at

Lucent: FCIP

In the SAN-WAN-SAN connectivity space, Lucent is focused squarely on the FCIP protocol. Lucent demonstrated its OptiStar EdgeSwitch at Storage Networking World. (For more information on the switch, see InfoStor, December 2000, p. 1.)

Doug Ingraham