iSCSI in High Gear


Conventional wisdom has always held that iSCSI is the less expensive option for storage networking, although you have to give up on the flexibility and robustness that is available from Fibre Channel.


That may no longer be true. A string of advancements in recent weeks has taken dead aim at some of iSCSI's more notorious drawbacks with the expectation that the technology will soon find its way into top-tier enterprise environments.


The first domino to fall is I/O performance. Even on top of a 10 GbE infrastructure, iSCSI still couldn't approach 10 Gbps speeds due to heavy processing loads on the CPU and other latency issues. But at Storage Networking World this week, Chelsio Communications demonstrated a full 10 Gb iSCSI solution using off-the-shelf servers outfitted with the company's S310e-SR+ storage accelerators. The demo, which also showcased Chelsio's TCP/IP Offload Engine in a NAS configuration, produced more than 250,000 IOPS in full duplex 10 GbE.


iSCSI management has also drawn a fair share of criticism, particularly within Windows and Linux environments. Chelsio is looking to address these deficiencies as well with a pair of new software stacks for its line of storage accelerators. The iSCSI Boot and iSCSI Target packages allow for centralized SAN management and a wider range of deployment configurations for Windows Server 2003 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux users.


Meanwhile, iStor Software has released a new software version for its iS512 family of iSCSI controllers designed to increase availability through improved malfunction failure detection and automatic switch-over to redundant controllers. The software works across 1 GbE and 10 Gbe versions of the iS512.


These and other developments once again have iSCSI boosters claiming Fibre Channel's days are numbered. TechRepublic's Scott Lowe says this is evident by virtue of the recent purchases of LeftHand Networks and EqualLogic by HP and Dell respectively, as well as the fact that you can buy upwards of 14 TB of iSCSI storage for less than $40,000.


That may be true, and there is every indication that iSCSI will move up the chain into higher-end enterprises, but there are still an awful lot of organizations that have already borne the cost of establishing Fibre Channel networks. Their vested interest lies in leveraging that infrastructure for as long as possible -- plenty of time for the Fibre Channel community to put the finishing touches on its own Ethernet solution.