IP SANs Get the 'Boot'

Startup offers software to boot iSCSI without disk or hardware initiators

September 2, 2005

3 Min Read
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A feature that can help iSCSI get a "boot" in the door of enterprise data centers is gaining momentum.

Canadian firm emBoot Inc. is lining up partners for its netBoot/i software, which boots Windows servers from iSCSI disk arrays. This could lead more IT managers to take a serious look at IP SANs when they're consolidating data center resources.

Here's why: Booting from SAN is a feature that allows blade servers to be reconfigured from a SAN, rather than other servers. This cuts down the number of disk-based servers required for disaster recovery and provisioning. Managers can reboot blade servers after an outage right from the storage network, or swap one server for another without halting data access.

Since boot from SAN relies on hardware in blade servers, most ITers have used the feature only for Fibre Channel SANs. Booting from IP SANs calls for iSCSI HBAs, and, while available, those are an added cost that takes away from the overall cost benefit of IP SANs. What's more, to communicate with IP SANs, most servers use a Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) software initiator rather than costly HBAs, and the Microsoft initiator does not support diskless boot.

Enter emBoot. The startup's software, netBoot/I, must first be installed on a Windows server with local hard drive so it can copy the local boot volume to an iSCSI target, or array. After that, netBoot/1 transfers the boot-image file from the iSCSI target to any diskless or disk-based server. The boot-image file can run under any operating system, emBoot claims.EmBoot isnt the first to offer a boot-from-SAN software for IP SANs. Brocade Communications Systems Inc.’s (Nasdaq: BRCD) Tapestry software platform and Cisco Systems Inc.’s (Nasdaq: CSCO) storage router allow customers to boot over iSCSI, but both products feature boot from SAN as part of a much more expensive software suite. In contrast, netBoot/i licenses cost $95 per client, and the software is aimed at small and medium organizations.

EmBoot should make life easier for folk looking to blend IP SANs with diskless blade servers. “Most iSCSI SANS are software-, not hardware-based,” says Marc Staimer of Dragon Slayer Consulting. “The ability [boot from SAN] over software gives you a lower-cost server to begin with, plus makes it easier to do maintenance. If a blade goes bad, you pull it out, plug in a new server, point it at a LUN, boot it up, and away you go.”

There is a downside: emBoot technical services manager Steve Marfisi admits netBoot/i is a bit slower than Microsoft’s initiator, but he says about 50 customers are evaluating the software with particular interest in disaster recovery and server provisioning. He expects it to start in smaller implementations before moving into the enterprise. emBoot is also trying to land partnerships with resellers.

“We’re still getting our wings together, but most people looking at it are small to medium companies,” he says.

A bunch of IP SAN players have tested their products with netBoot/1 and certified it since its announcement in April (see Sanrad Works With emBoot). DataCore Software Corp. became the latest to glom on this week, when it announced its SANmelody and SANsymphony virtualization software works with netBoot/I (see DataCore, emBoot Offer Recovery ). Other certifications come from EqualLogic Inc., Sanrad Inc., and String Bean Software Inc.NetBoot/i has also tested successfully with products from Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT), FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), and others, as well as Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) blade servers.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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