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IP storage today and tomorrow.

2003 has been quite a year for standards-based storage initiatives, particularly in regards to IP Storage (IPS). Vendors have made significant progress, with many announcing IPS hardware and software, and customers are investigating how IPS will affect their current storage networking environments, and what benefits they can expect by deploying IP Storage solutions. This article will review the recent progress of IP storage, dispel some of the myths about IP storage, and preview what we can all expect for the coming months in the IP storage industry.

Core Protocols Complete

In early 2003, the three core IP-based storage networking protocol specifications were ratified by the Internet Engineering task Force (IETF). The IETF IP Storage Working Group announced the approval of Fibre Channel over TCP/IP (FCIP and iFCP) in late January, and the Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI) in February.

Approval of these IP-based storage standards was a significant milestone for the industry as vendors were able to finalize the products they had in development in conformance with the ratified specifications.

Almost immediately, we started to see the announcement of compliant products. The pace of these announcements has accelerated throughout the year, and not just from storage vendors. A major boost to product deployment came in June when Microsoft released iSCSI support for its Windows 2000 client and server versions, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 platforms. Other OS vendors are also on board--iSCSI software initiators are already available for both Linux and Novell NetWare, with more expected soon.

Some people in the industry have characterized IP storage, and iSCSI in particular, as a "nail in the coffin" for Fibre Channel (FC) technologies. However, that's the wrong way to look at it. iSCSI isn't a Fibre Channel killer, but it may ultimately be a DAS killer since it will greatly accelerate the transition from direct-attached storage to networked storage. IP and FC storage solutions don't represent an either/or proposition; both are required to give customers the best options for the storage networking needs across their IT infrastructure. Fibre Channel SAN technology has been shipping for some time, and is well established at the enterprise level, particularly in core data centers. iSCSI, on the other hand, enables customers to leverage their IP network investment, and create SAN solutions in those parts of their infrastructure where FC SANs were not a good economic or technological fit.

Myth Busting

Other myths have sprung up on the back of this FC versus IP Storage confusion. When a technology as promising as IP Storage emerges--and appears to threaten established technologies--fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) usually follow. Such has been the case with the introduction of iSCSI, FCIP and iFCP. The most common "objections" heard about IP Storage seem to be about performance, security and interoperability, raising doubts about whether it is appropriate for enterprise-class storage networking applications.

On the performance front, we hear that IP Storage over Gigabit Ethernet is too slow for enterprise applications. This is not true. Very few applications get close to using the full band-width of a Gigabit connection. The question of host CPU overhead is then usually brought up, but we're finding that with hardware-assisted iSCSI initiators, where iSCSI and TCP/IP processing is offloaded to an iSCSI HBA, CPU overhead is reduced to approximately Fibre Channel HBA levels. For many applications, we're even finding that iSCSI software initiators (such as the one supplied by Microsoft with Windows), in conjunction with a standard Gigabit Ethernet NIC, deliver acceptable performance--particularly when running on the latest generation of server CPUs.

Another "issue" is that IP Storage introduces security risks since it is Ethernet--based the perception is that Fibre Channel environments are more secure. Interestingly, FC environments rely on the fact that they are private networks for their security--Fibre Channel protocol has essentially no security capabilities. IP Storage can be implemented as private networks too--in fact this is considered best practices with Enterprise NAS today.

However, the iSCSI protocol was designed with extensive security features to enable deployment in a wide variety of environments. The iSCSI spec requires Initiator and Target authentication (using CHAP, SRP, Kerberos, SPKM) to prevent unauthorized access and permit only trustworthy nodes. In addition, IPsec Digests and Anti-Reply optionally prevents insertion, modification and deletion, and IPsec Encryption provides privacy and prevents eavesdropping. IPSec is widely accepted and recognized as a bulletproof means of protecting transported data.

In order to avoid complexity, iSCSI allows the initiators and targets to negotiate the security levels during the login process. As a result, users can deploy iSCSI solutions with varying degrees of security tailored to their specific needs. In trusted network segments, for instance, users can deploy iSCSI without enabling IPSec.

Interoperability and Customer Deployment

Despite the FUD, things are quickly falling into place for customer deployments: standards-based products are available, there is software platform support, and customers are looking for more cost-effective ways to accomplish storage consolidation, backup and restore, and disaster recovery.

However, since IP Storage is based on new technologies, customers are looking for assurances that different vendors' products have been thoroughly tested and reliably work together. Vendors typically address this with their own specific programs. For example, to ensure technology interoperability and quality assurance for its customers, Microsoft has created an iSCSI designed for Windows logo program to enable IHVs to qualify their Windows-targeted iSCSI hardware components.

We are also starting to see the availability of iSCSI prequalification testing programs from independent third-party testing labs, which enable iSCSI initiator vendors and iSCSI target vendors to self-qualify onto each other's support matrices.

As a result of all this progress, customer deployment stories about IP Storage solutions are starting to appear in the press. The storage industry can expect to see IP Storage deployments really accelerate over coming months, as customers get comfortable with the technology and more vendors ship their IP Storage products.

What's Next

We expect the next six months to be just as exciting as the past six months. Developments will be made in regard to new, expanded customer deployments, and attention will be devoted to developing more efficient, streamlined management methods for IP storage solutions.

Technical Initiatives

On the technical front, focus has moved from the core protocols to ancillary protocols and APIs that will enable largescale IP Storage deployments, and integrate IP Storage into the standards-based management framework that is such a central focus for the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA.)

The iSNS (Internet Storage Name Server) is a new mechanism, which provides registry and discovery of IP-based and Fibre Channel-based SCSI devices. It is particularly important for iFCP since it enables device discovery by an iFCP gateway, iSNS is now in the final stages of the IETF process, and ratification is expected soon.

Also near completion is the iSCSI Management API (IMA), which will be the basis for integrating iSCSI device support into the Storage Management Initiative. As stated before, this is a major accomplishment in the IP Storage arena, as customers are searching for broad interoperability across their storage assets.

Industry Initiatives

While the benefits of standards sound great on paper, users need to see standards at work in order to consider introducing them into their established environments. So, in addition to an extensive IP Storage interoperability demonstration at Fall SNW, the IPSF will also be hosting a series of IT Road Shows beginning in December. The IT Road Show is a multicity seminar series in which IP Storage Forum members will explain what the technology is, which IT problems it solves today, and who is using it. They will also demonstrate products based on the iSCSI, FCIP and iFCP standards. The goal is for IPSF members and industry experts to help attendees understand how they can benefit from IP Storage solutions today.

IP Storage represents an opportunity for companies to accelerate their transition from direct-attached to networked storage by enabling cost-effective storage consolidation, data protection and disaster recovery solutions which leverage their existing investment in Ethernet infrastructure and expertise.

Over the past six months, IP Storage has gone from emerging technology to broadly supported real-world solutions. The next six months will see a significant acceleration in the deployment of IP Storage Solutions, and the IP Storage community is hard at work to expand and enable that deployment.

David Dale is acting Marketing Chair, SNIA IP Storage Forum
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Title Annotation:Connectivity
Author:Dale, David
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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