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IBM's iSCSI Offering

SAN JOSE, CA--IBM took a big step into a smaller world with its recent announcement of a new network storage solution aimed at small to medium sized businesses. Big Blue's new Linux-based, iSCSI-enabled network storage appliance, the IP Storage 200i, supports networks of storage products built using TCP/IP, instead of the Fibre Channel communication standard typically used by high-end storage area networks (SANs).

The move highlights a serious investment by IBM in the new iSCSI standard, which is an Internet version of the small computer system interface (SCSI) technology used to connect hard disks and other devices to computers. IBM is working with Cisco Systems to make iSCSI a standard approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force. (Cisco acquired iSCSI developer NuSpeed in July.)

iSCSI is a type of IP storage. IP storage systems send block-level data over an IP network. iSCSI, transmits native SCSI over a layer of the IP stack. iSCSI lets a corporate network transfer and store SCSI commands and data at any location with access to the WAN or, if transmitted over the Internet, to locations with access to the Internet. It also allows smaller localized SANs to be built using the common Ethernet infrastructure. Consequently, iSCSI enables SANs to be implemented by a broad, mainstream market.

The iSCSI standard makes it possible to use ordinary TCP/IP hardware instead of specialized Fibre Channel equipment in the development of a SAN. SANs are highly scalable networks of servers and storage devices interconnected through Fibre Channel hubs and switches. Although a SAN is typically clustered in close proximity to other computing resources (say, an IBM S/390 mainframe), these networks may also extend to remote locations for backup and archival storage, using wide area network (WAN) carrier technologies, such as asynchronous transfer mode or Synchronous Optical Network.

As more and more IT organizations find their data storage requirements passing the terabyte mark, SANs and related technologies are becoming a hot topic. But it's not the data storage explosion that's driving the growth of this market; it's the data management demands. Hard disk space is cheap and plentiful, and IT administrators rarely give a second thought to adding 50 GBs here and there when the need arises. But the overhead associated with directly attached storage is considerable, and managing all that data is becoming a nightmare in some organizations-especially when you throw in the high-availability demands of e-commerce.

"As e-business and the Internet move storage from the back room to the heart of the IT network," said Linda Sanford, head of IBM's storage group, "customers are looking to take the islands of storage they have built and create interoperable, open storage networks, be it within a single department or a worldwide enterprise."

IBM has targeted its iSCSI offerings for workgroups and small departments that cannot justify the expense of bringing Fibre Channel-based SANs to the desktop, but which already have the infrastructure in place to support TCP/IP.

But IBM has also made it clear that it is not abandoning its larger enterprise customers that depend on Fibre Channel solutions. In addition to the IP Storage 200i announcement, the company announced a series of storage technology enhancements and customer-focused solutions, including native Fibre Channel for IBM's 3584 UltraScalable Tape Library, a 32 GB cache upgrade to IBM Shark, and a Web-based support program aimed at storage customers.

The company also announced the industry's first open network-attached storage (NAS) gateway, the IBM TotalStorage 300G, which allows LAN-based clients and servers to interoperate with an existing SAN. The idea is to leverage the features and performance of a SAN with the ease and convenience of a NAS product.

According to IBM's Sanford, the 100i version of the IP appliance will be available in the first half of this year for a starting price of around $20,000.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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