Adaptec Shipping iSCSI

Finally starts shipping its iSCSI adapter. But is it already behind the curve?

April 14, 2003

4 Min Read
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After a few fits and starts, Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) is finally shipping its first iSCSI adapter -- at roughly half the cost of Fibre Channel host bus adapters and one-fourth the performance.

Adaptec's ASA-7211 iSCSI Gigabit Ethernet adapter, which uses an onboard TCP/IP offload engine ASIC, provides 138-Mbyte/s full duplex throughput (110-Mbyte/s writes and 80-Mbyte/s reads), according to the company. At full load, the card's CPU utilization is a maximum of 20 percent with a 1GHz processor [ed. note: no Ferrari, but it's no Yugo either].

The copper (RJ-45) version of the ASA-7211 carries a list price of $660, and the fiber version is $715. The company estimates street prices for the cards will be in the mid-$500 range.

Clearly, the Adaptec iSCSI adapter -- reflecting the positioning of many IP SAN products now coming to market -- is aimed at a lower-end tier than Fibre Channel HBAs, which can offer upwards of 500-Mbyte/s throughput and 5 percent or lower CPU utilization.

"What we're going after is the market that wants a SAN but for whatever reason didn't want to buy a Fibre Channel," says Glenn Clowney, director of iSCSI products at Adaptec. "Not everyone wants to pay $2,000 for a toaster that can get you toast in 2 seconds." [Ed. note: It seems Sharper Image sold just such a toaster in the mid-90s.]However, two startups, Silverback Systems Inc. and Trebia Networks Inc., have recently demonstrated IP-based storage chips running considerably faster than Adaptec's iSCSI adapter (see Silverback Makes iSCSI Howl and Is Trebia Up for Sale?).

So is Adaptec behind the curve right out of the chute? Not necessarily. Clowney maintains that topping 100-Mbyte/s throughput is more than adequate for running such applications as Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Exchange email server or SQL Server database. "If you're over 100 Mbyte/s you have increased the probability the customer will be happy," he says. Adaptec is providing its own drivers for Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Linux.

It is true, though, that Adaptec's delivery of this product was delayed longer than it would have liked. Mainly, the entire market was waiting for the official ratification of the iSCSI specification by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which took at least five months longer than originally expected (see iSCSI Gets Go-Ahead).

Clowney says iSCSI turned out to be more complex than people thought. "Everybody wanted to make sure that we had the interoperability solved. We didn't want to go through the same thing that Fibre Channel did."

The industry scuttlebutt, however, was that Adaptec was hitting snags with its TCP offload engine (TOE) chip -- speculation that's supported by the fact that Adaptec's network acceleration card (NAC), originally expected in the spring of 2002, is still unavailable. The Adaptec NAC, intended to speed up IP traffic for I/O-intensive applications, uses the same TOE that's in the iSCSI adapter. Clowney says the NAC will be available "in the near future." (See Adaptec Takes Whack at NAC.)Whatever the reason, the lag in the rollout of iSCSI-based systems, among other things, has hurt Adaptec financially over the past few quarters (see Adaptec Axes Headcount, Again and Adaptec Sees iSCSI Delayed).

To be fair, iSCSI is just now starting to shift into second gear. Even though it may be coming out later than it originally planned, Adaptec is still one of the first vendors out with a shipping iSCSI-based HBA. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) started shipping a prestandard version of its iSCSI-based PRO/1000 T adapter more than a year ago, although we should note this card offers even less spectacular performance than Adaptec's current offering (see Intel Lines Up iSCSI Kickoff).

Alacritech Inc., another player in this space, is announcing its support of Microsoft's iSCSI driver for Windows today. Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX) and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) are also developing iSCSI adapters (see Intel & Emulex: iSCSI Tag Team?, Alacritech Supports Microsoft's iSCSI, iSCSI's Second Act, and Microsoft to Unleash iSCSI).

Adaptec's ASA-7211 card is available from various distributors, including Ingram Micro Inc. (NYSE: IM) and Tech Data Corp. (Nasdaq: TECD). Actually, it's been in the channel for a few weeks, and Adaptec says it's already sold several hundred units. The company has named a few of its beta sites, which include GPS technology developer Trimble Navigation Ltd. (see NetApp's IP SAN Wins a Fan).

As far as OEMs for its iSCSI adapter, Adaptec hasn't announced any yet but promises that it has a few in the pipeline. The company is also expecting to develop its own integrated IP SAN system using enclosures developed by Eurologic Systems, which Adaptec bought late last month (see Adaptec Adopts Eurologic).Adaptec's other major announcement today is a design win with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which is using Adaptec's TCP offload engine in its Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) module for the Cisco 7200 and 7400 router families. Clowney says the two companies have been working together on this project for about a year.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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