By Dave Simpson
Last month, Alacritech released its SES1001 iSCSI accelerator card, which speeds up Microsoft's iSCSI Software Initiator via hardware ASICs. Spicing up the competition—and controversy—in the iSCSI market, Alacritech commissioned VeriTest (the testing division of Lionbridge Technologies) to conduct performance testing of the Alacritech card versus competing cards from Adaptec and Intel. The results are available at www.veritest.com/clients/reports/alacritech/ (see diagram for test configuration).
Alacritech was one of the original developers of TCP/IP offload engine (TOE) cards. The SES1001 can carry TCP/IP-Ethernet traffic, but does not accelerate Ethernet traffic. As such, the SES1001 is referred to as an iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA), as opposed to a TOE network interface card (TOE NIC, or TNIC).
According to VeriTest's benchmarks, Alacritech's iSCSI accelerators provide better performance than competing cards at a lower price. With a 10/100/1000 twisted-pair copper Ethernet interface, the card lists at $599. A version with a 1000Base-SX fiber-optic interface is priced at $799.
Analysts predict that most early adopters of iSCSI will eschew accelerator cards and use Microsoft's free iSCSI software initiators with standard, inexpensive Gigabit Ethernet NICs. However, Joe Gervais, Alacritech's director of product marketing, notes that that approach "won't provide scalability as users' storage requirements grow. They may have to migrate to an accelerator, and we enable them to continue to use the Microsoft initiator." The alternative to using an accelerator card is to upgrade to more, or faster, server CPUs.
Based on the results of the VeriTest benchmarks, Alacritech's iSCSI accelerator provides a 512-byte bi-directional throughput rate of 47,690 operations per second and a 512-byte read rate of 46,001 operations per second. Additional features include Ethernet link aggregation and fail-over. (Alacritech claims that the card can recover from link failures in less than 10 seconds, a claim that is supported by the VeriTest benchmark results.)
The SES1001 is compatible with iSCSI products from vendors such as Cisco, EqualLogic, FalconStor Software, Intransa, McDATA, and SANRAD. Because the card uses Microsoft's iSCSI initiator rather than an Alacritech iSCSI implementation, the company obtained certification through meeting the LAN hardware requirements (as opposed to the iSCSI HBA requirements) of Microsoft's "Designed for Windows" logo program.
According to recent surveys, interest in—if not adoption of—iSCSI is picking up steam. For example, in a survey of InfoStor's readers, about 7% said that they have already implemented iSCSI; 11% plan to implement an iSCSI storage area network (SAN) in the next six months; 19% will deploy an iSCSI SAN in the next 6 to 12 months; while 63% have no plans to implement iSCSI.