IP Storage Makes Names for Itself

Industry giants IBM and Intel back new IP storage standard for device discovery and naming

June 26, 2001

5 Min Read
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Quiet little announcements sometimes have a way of rattling lots of cages. The joint announcement this morning from Nishan Systems and industry giants IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) may have that effect, as the announcement adds considerable muscle to the IP storage movement (see Nishan Announces IP Storage Protocol).

The announcement is that new IP storage software, Internet Storage Name Service (iSNS), has been released as open source code and is available for download at


The significance of the announcement is that this bit of code essentially acts like DNS for IP storage -- providing a discovery and naming service for storage resources and devices within a storage network. DNS (Domain Name Service) does the same sort of thing for systems connected to the Internet and is at the core of what makes the Internet work. Availability of discovery and naming services with iSNS may also overcome any resistance within IT circles toward the adoption of IP storage.

According to John Kuhn, IBM's iSCSI Development Manager, the perception that the iSNS is the piece of the IP storage puzzle that is essential for iSCSI to function well is, "right on the money. The concept of discovery and naming is absolutely key to making iSCSI a bona fide solution."

"I think this is one more validation that IP storage is happening. The pieces are falling into place to create this infrastructure, particularly from a management perspective," says Gary Orenstein, director of marketing at Nishan Systems.To understand the impact of iSNS, it is helpful to recall that when all storage devices were directly attached to systems, the simple SCSI ID number mechanism was all that was required. Each SCSI disk or tape drive was identified by a numeric ID from 0 to 7, or 0 to 15, depending on the SCSI level being used. When Fibre Channel (FC) was introduced, a more sophisticated naming convention was required, and a storage name service, essentially a distributed database, was developed. The iSNS performs the same function, and does it in a way that is compatible with FC naming conventions. The iSNS, however, is a superset, and can include both iSCSI and FC device information.

Kuhn feels that iSNS will ease many of the initial interoperability issues between iSCSI-based products. "Initially, the iSCSI initiator code from different vendors, for example, is likely to be different," Kuhn told Byte and Switch. "The standard discovery and naming provided by iSNS goes a long way toward resolving that type of interoperability issue."

Will iSCSI replace Fibre Channel? Kuhn doesn't think so, at least not in the short term. "Certainly, iSCSI needs to grow up a little bit more. It needs to have the admin of security, which is being discussed in the IETF but hasn't been implemented yet. So, initially, we're not a replacement for Fibre Channel SANs, and I think we'd be arrogant as iSCSI purveyors to claim that or position that way."

Kuhn sees lots of iSCSI in the market, eventually. He cites cost benefits and administrative familiarity as being major attractions of iSCSI for IT managers. "A couple of years out, when iSCSI grows up a bit, you'll start to see some migration."

Kuhn is in charge of both iSCSI hardware and software at IBM, and thus has a good handle on what IBM is doing in this arena. His group did several interoperability demonstrations with other vendors at the Networld+Interop conference this last May. Rumor also has it that IBM, which intends to be a major player in the IP storage area, will be making an announcement later this week about shipping an iSCSI appliance that scales from 108 gigabytes to 1.74 terabytes.According to Blaine Kohl, business unit manager within Intel's LAN Access Division (the group working on IP storage), Intel will be supporting the iSNS protocol on its Intel PRO/1000 IP Storage Adapter, projected to be available later this year.

What is Intel's take on the competition between iSCSI and Fibre Channel and the timing of iSCSI adoption?

"We do believe that there is a one-gig market [for iSCSI over Ethernet], and that you will see product shipping in one-gig next year," Kohl told Byte and Switch. "That's not to say that we'll take the Fibre Channel world away from them by storm. I think there is a home for Fibre Channel, particularly at the high end. I think Fibre Channel will be a lot like we see with Token Ring. Ten years from now we may still see a few percentage points of the SAN market still owned by Fibre Channel."

Kohl thinks the real pickup for iSCSI will come with the introduction of 10-Gbit/s products, and she expects that to take place in late 2003 or early 2004.

The SpecsThe co-authors of the iSNS standards-track specification have submitted the spec to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), where it is being considered by the IP Storage Work Group. Nishan worked on the specification alongside

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), IBM Research, Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Pirus Networks, andVixel Corporation. (See All Eyes on Cisco and Nortel Lights Up Storage Networks.)Randy Fardal, vice president of marketing at Nishan, indicated that the IETF is looking at all of the IP storage protocol standards submissions as a group, and he expects to see approval of them late this year or early next year.

Products, however, usually precede the actual approval of standards, the products serving to validate the standard. "Standards don't drive revenue," Fardal said, "Revenue drives standards."

Open Source

The concept behind the open source code movement started with The Free Software Foundation and gained widespread awareness through the spread of the Linux operating system, a UNIX-like free operating system that runs on Intel-based and other systems. While open source code is free, certain license restrictions apply that encourage contributions back to the development community.

What this means for iSNS is that the open source community, composed of thousands of developers around the world, will have access to the code for testing and development purposes. This process has proven itself to result in both wide adoption of software and greater robustness of the code.- Ralph Barker, Editor in Chief, Byte and Switch http://www.byteandswitch.com

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