10-Gig IP SANs Hit Bleeding Edge

Tiny startups wade into 10-Gbit/s iSCSI, while more established players wait

March 22, 2006

4 Min Read
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A couple of small IP SAN players looking to get on the map are rolling out 10-Gbit/s Ethernet systems as users ponder whether the time is right to implement them yet.

Nimbus Data this week will unveil an IP SAN that supports 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, a week after Xiranet did the same. Nimbus, a 20-person outfit based in San Francisco, has been shipping entry-level IP SANS for about two years now and is looking to move up to the midrange. (See Nimbus Nips Into iSCSI .) Xiranet, an eight-person startup based in Germany, is rolling out its first systems with hopes of taking advantage of high-speed connectivity. (See Xiranet Goes Native and InfiniBand Natives Stirring.)

The Nimbus MX4 and 10G systems are unified iSCSI SAN and NAS midrange systems, ranging from 1.5 Tbytes to 55 Tbytes of capacity. (See KPMG Reports on Services.) The systems include an Ethernet switch with up to 48 gigabit-Ethernet host connections. The MX4 has four GigE ports on the back end, while the 10G system includes one 10-GigE port.

The 10-Gbit/s connectivity is not the only difference between Nimbus' offering and its previous product line. The new systems include SAS and SATA drives. Customers can mix drive types and RAID levels on the same backplane. With starting prices of $20,000 for the MX4 and $35,000 for the 10G, Nimbus positions its new wares as lower-priced midrange alternatives to systems from EMC, Network Appliance, EqualLogic, LeftHand, and Intransa.

But CEO Tom Isakovich says the 10-Gbit/s capability is more than window dressing. "We've been getting requests for ten-gig," he says. "The time is right. iSCSI used to mean it's cheap but it's slower, but not anymore."Xiranet's 10-Gbit/s systems also support SAS and SATA. The XAS500 supports up to 7.5 Tbytes and the XSA1000 up to 100 Tbytes. Unlike Nimbus, these are Xiranet's first products and are low-end offerings that include Xiranet software on standard servers with a starting price of $10,000.

More 10-Gbit/s Ethernet products are on the way. Chipmakers Chelsio and Neterion have been lining up partners for their 10-Gbit/s chips. (See Neterion Lines Up Partners, FalconStor Certifies Chelsio, Chelsio, Open-E Qualify Solutions, DNUK Selects Chelsio for iSCI, Chelsio, Nimbus Promise SAN, and DSG Storage Offers Chelsio.) Also, BlueArc, which offers iSCSI connectivity for its NAS systems, is shipping 10-Gbit/s products, though it is still the early days for such systems. (See BlueArc Beefs Up Titan.)

But while 10-Gbit/s has been considered a huge future driver for iSCSI, the larger IP SAN vendors haven't delivered 10-Gbit/s systems yet. EqualLogic, LeftHand, and Intransa say they'll have 10-GigE later this year. The Fibre Channel SAN players who also offer iSCSI, such as EMC and Network Appliance, aren't even talking about it yet. Sources say EMC will soon launch new versions of its iSCSI Clariion CX and AX systems, but the vendor will stay at 1 Gbit/s for now.

Will customers bite early? It depends on how they're using iSCSI.

William Jordan, director of operations for Nimbus customer WebServe Canada, says he may go to 10-Gbit/s Ethernet as he adds disk to his IP SAN. The Vancouver-based Web site hosting firm uses Nimbus systems to back up servers, but plans to attach the entire network to Nimbus systems over the next few months."We'll probably look at ten-gig for the entire network," he explains. "We'll require more disk as part of our migration strategy."

That makes sense, considering the Nimbus 10G system has one 10-GigE port in and 48 GigE ports out, making it good for aggregating servers. According to Isakovich, the price difference is about $6,000 to $8,000 for MX4 and 10G systems with the same capacity.

Other users will want to wait for wider support and better pricing before switching to 10 GigE. Alan Hunt, manager of operations for law firm Dickinson Wright, says he would like to incorporate 10 GigE as an interface between his IBM BladeCenter blade servers, his switch fabric, and his EqualLogic IP SAN. His firm already uses 10-GigE to interconnect Extreme Networks switches, but not for connections to servers and storage.

"I would like to be able to add a BladeCenter into that stack some day as well as add the IP SAN," he reckons. "I can get rid of a lot of cables coming out of the BladeCenter."

But even if EqualLogic did have a 10-GigE system, Hunt thinks it wouldn't make economic sense yet, due to the cost of 10-GigE interfaces for BladeCenters: "It's almost like I'm trying to duplicate Fibre Channel when you look at the costs of the connections."Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Chelsio Communications Inc.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • EqualLogic Inc.

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Intransa Inc.

  • LeftHand Networks Inc.

  • Neterion Inc.

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Nimbus Data Systems Inc.

  • Xiranet Communications GmbH

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