My post last week about iSCSI and Fibre Channel drew an interesting question from one reader in response to my thought that Fibre Channel and Infiniband deliver more for the money.
A. DeHart called me on the carpet to explain exactly how the more expensive storage networking mechanisms are superior to iSCSI, particularly when it comes to functionality and network flexibility. And I was forced to admit that he or she is right. With the onset of 10 GbE, there isn't a whole lot that iSCSI can't do anymore.
Just take a look at some of the advanced tools that are starting to emerge on the latest iSCSI systems.
Dot Hill Systems Corp. has just introduced the 2330 iSCSI RAID array to go along with the Fibre Channel arrays that have been the company's bread and butter for several years now. The 2U system holds two 1 GbE ports and 512 MB mirrored cache per controller, along with 12 drives and support for 56 SAS/SATA arrays for a total capacity of 42 TB. It also delivers RAID 6 performance, advanced data protection services like MPIO and active-active controllers, and the ability to easily convert from iSCSI to FC and back through a simple controller exchange.
Another firm, Alacritech, is looking to improve iSCSI performance even further by providing native support for emBoot's winBoot/i software in its Scalable Network Accelerators. Users will be able to boot iSCSI directly from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and 2008 using only Microsoft's iSCSI software; no need for a specialized iSCSI HBA. Not only does the combo simplify management and lower operating costs by freeing the server from its boot volume, but it adds important automatic failover and diagnostic capabilities as well.
Top-tier vendors also are starting to push the iSCSI envelope. Hitachi's Simple Modular Storage 100 system starts at only $5,000 but delivers up to 7 TB with 12 SAS or SATA drives and the ability to add RAID groups without manual configuration.
Also new are specialized iSCSI systems for targeted environments, such as telecommunications. Astute Networks has delivered the first 10 Gb iSCSI blade conforming to the Advanced Telecommunications Computer Architecture standard. The Caspian ATCA blade delivers 100,000 IOPS at 400 MBps throughput, with support for RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. It's aimed at ramping up telco back office capabilities as they roll out 3G/4G, IPTV, instant messaging and other services.
So without a doubt, some interesting things are happening with iSCSI. There still is the drawback of putting storage traffic on top of the Ethernet, which will likely need some upgrading to handle all that data, and now voice traffic as well. But unless you already have a separate architecture in place already, iSCSi certainly has a lot to offer.