TOEs gain foothold in NAS market

Alacritech targets Linux-based NAS

By Lisa Coleman

Continuing its TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) push into network-attached storage (NAS), Alacritech is now targeting Linux-based NAS by partnering with three software companies: FalconStor Software, Mountain View Data, and OptiFacio Software Services.

Each partner has certified Alacritech's TCP/IP accelerator drivers for Linux with its respective software and will offer Alacritech's technology for Linux-based NAS servers.

FalconStor has certified the Linux drivers with its IPStor software and is reselling Alacritech's 1000x1 Gigabit Ethernet Accelerator card with the software. Mountain View Data and OptiFacio Software products will include support for the TOE drivers. Mountain View Data's NAS software will also offer a custom GUI interface for managing the TOE cards. Both Mountain View Data and OptiFacio provide software platforms for OEMs to build Linux-based NAS devices.

"To stay competitive, NAS vendors will adopt TOEs. It's just a matter of when," says Joe Gervais, director of product marketing at Alacritech.

Linux rounds out Alacritech's NAS support. Its accelerators already supported Windows-based NAS and the company is working with major NAS vendors to add TCP offload hooks into their proprietary operating systems.

Last November, IBM signed an OEM agreement with Alacritech to add its accelerators to IBM's TotalStorage NAS 200 and NAS 300G gateway devices. By putting the accelerator into a PCI slot on the NAS server, and using Intel's 2.4GHz Xeon processor, IBM reported a 50% performance increase. And, IBM is seeing customer acceptance grow, according to a company spokesperson. About 20% of IBM's NAS 200 devices and 45% of its 300G gateways are shipping with Alacritech's accelerator cards.

Last year, Hewlett-Packard commissioned an independent lab to test the Alacritech accelerator with HP's StorageWorks E7000 NAS server and an early version of Microsoft's Windows .NET Server. The tests resulted in a 40% performance boost.

Alacritech's accelerators are based on the company's session-layer interface control (SLIC) technology, which can be used in general-purpose servers, NAS, and iSCSI storage systems. SLIC technology offloads network protocol processing from software on the host system to silicon on the adapter.

The accelerators can move both file- and block-level traffic, and the new Linux drivers provide link aggregation and fail-over for NAS environments.

"The NAS industry has figured out that they can't afford to move TCP in software when they can do it efficiently in hardware," says Gervais.

Randy Kerns, an analyst with The Evaluator Group research and consulting firm, agrees that NAS vendors will need TCP/IP acceleration to be competitive, especially in the workgroup and small to medium-sized business markets that have deployed NAS and may be considering iSCSI later this year.

"The accelerator cards will certainly help iSCSI, but they will also help NAS boxes. And NAS may be a better solution for some people than trying to install an iSCSI solution," says Kerns. By adding TCP/IP acceleration, NAS vendors can boost performance and, arguably, that solution may have less impact on the infrastructure than iSCSI, explains Kerns.

One potential drawback for NAS users is that they may need to install the accelerator cards in all of their filers. "That's a pretty big investment for companies that have lots of servers or workstations that access NAS boxes," says Kerns.

But Gervais says that's not necessarily true. Users can reap benefits from installing accelerator cards as performance requirements dictate. "If you have one server that's really choking on data, you just put an accelerator in that server. [Then,] you get immediate performance benefits and it's fully transparent to all the clients talking to that server."

This article was originally published on March 01, 2003