Network Appliance becomes early iSCSI Adopter

By Heidi Biggar

Hoping to position itself as an early leader in the still-nascent iSCSI market, Network Appliance last month announced native iSCSI support for its F800 filers and FAS900 storage systems. In voicing its support of iSCSI, NetApp reiterated its commitment to being a "one-stop shop" for storage networking.

In October, NetApp introduced the Fabric Attach Storage (FAS) 900, a storage platform capable of simultaneously serving both file- and block-level data. The system uses the same operating system (Data ONTAP) and file system (WAFL) as traditional NetApp filers, which facilitates management in existing NetApp storage environments.

In addition to the iSCSI announcement, NetApp also made a series of product releases intended to extend the company's reach in enterprise markets. Among the updates were a higher-capacity disk-based backup system, server-side support for NFS, replication support for non-NetApp disk systems, and synchronous campus-wide replication (see box below).

The big news, however, wasn't replication or backup, but iSCSI. Although the storage community has yet to embrace iSCSI, vendor support has clearly picked up. Over the past few months, big-name vendors such as Cisco, IBM, Intel, NetApp, and QLogic have made iSCSI announcements, as have some smaller companies (see EqualLogic article, above).

NetApp FAS supports multi-protocol storage environments, including FC SANs, NAS, and iSCSI.
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And the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) last month approved the iSCSI draft standard. iSCSI proponents say the IETF stamp of approval is indicative of the specification's overall level of stability and "readiness" to be adopted by end users and vendors alike.

"We're bullish on the technology now that we have a defined specification that can be adopted by many companies to provide interoperability," says Phil Williams, vice president of global alliances at Network Appliance.

The IP Storage Working Group defines iSCSI as a means of transporting SCSI packets over TCP/IP that provides for an interoperable solution that takes advantage of the existing Internet infrastructure and management facilities, addresses distance limitations, and maps over TCP to ensure high-volume storage transfers.

Many analysts expect iSCSI support to increase steadily throughout the year, driving adoption among end users over the next several years. Potential advantages of iSCSI include low cost (compared to Fibre Channel), ubiquity (it leverages pervasive Ethernet infrastructures), and manageability (it allows users to consolidate distributed storage environments).

"There's been a rapid shift to networked storage, but a lot of companies still can't justify a shift to Fibre Channel," says Williams. The reality is that less than a third of all organizations have implemented Fibre Channel SANs, and the majority of storage is still direct attached or internal to servers.

Why? Because, in many cases, investing in a Fibre Channel SAN or NAS simply has not made good business sense. iSCSI proponents believe that the new interface will help companies make the leap from direct-attached storage to networked storage more affordable and less complex.

How will this impact Fibre Channel SAN and NAS markets? Network Appliance believes the three markets will co-exist, meeting specific application requirements. Explains Williams: "iSCSI, Fibre Channel SAN, and NAS will all co-exist, but they will solve different problems, in different ways, and at different price points."

He contends that iSCSI will be reserved for cost-sensitive applications (e.g., remote offices or workgroups), Fibre Channel SANs for high-performance environments, and NAS for file-sharing environments.

"Having the ability to connect storage to a fabric that best suits the needs of the application gives IT flexibility and ease of management," says Steve Kenniston, an analyst with The Enterprise Storage Group.

Network Appliance has made its iSCSI protocol license available for free, downloaded from www.networkappliance.com. Host connectivity (currently Linux and Windows) is possible via Intel's PRO/1000 T IP storage adapters. NetApp plans to expand its iSCSI support to Exchange, SQL Server, and file and print platforms over time.

Kenniston believes that Network Appliance's decision to introduce iSCSI at this time is potentially huge. "They already play on the IP side, and this market—as it grows toward the end of year—puts them in a great position [to exploit that advantage]."

NetApp announcements at a glance...

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This article was originally published on March 01, 2003