IP Storage Spec Shapes Up

UPDATED The IP storage players come to the table: looks like Brocade and Cisco vs. Nishan and Nortel

January 19, 2001

4 Min Read
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The The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is making progress toward IP-based storage networks.

The proposed standard is a big deal for the storage industry. Making current storage protocols compatible with IP (Internet protocol) will drive the use of storage-area networks (SANs) across long distances. Such efforts would likely open up the storage market and make it a top application for the high-bandwidth services being created by optical technology.

An interim meeting this week in Orlando, Florida, took the first steps toward a technical specification that would enable Fibre Channel and SCSI (small computer systems interface) protocols to run over IP networks.

Much is at stake: Today, SCSI and Fibre Channel, which are the preferred methods for hooking SAN host computers to storage devices, are limited to distances of 25 meters and 10 kilometers, respectively. Putting them on IP would eliminate distance limitations and make storage networks more compatible with existing packet-based intranets.

"Lots of issues were resolved," said an attendee, who asked that his name and company be withheld. Among other things, some fine points -- such as details of tunneling Fibre Channel over IP -- were finalized, and a subgroup charged with providing a name service for managing both the iSCSI (SCSI over IP) and FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP) protocols was given some valuable guidance for completing their work. These steps could help produce a more complete, updated draft sometime within the next two months, the source said.But politics, of course, is certain to enter into the equation. The group must decide just how many contributions to accept -- and we're not talking about bribes. The various storage vendors are allowed to submit their own proposals before an agreement is hashed out.

A couple of vendors are intent on having more specs adopted on top of the present charter. And depending on with whom you talk, that could either advance the specs or make them more complicated.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), the Fiber Channel market leader (see Brocade Sews Up a Good Quarter), has proposed a new time-stamping and framing format for FCIP that it hopes will augment the one now on the table.

Nishan Systems, a startup specializing in IP SANs (see SAN Surprise Jolts Market), has worked with Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), and several others to create an address translation scheme that would provide an alternative to using either the currently proposed FCIP tunneling or the iSCSI protocol. The proposal can be viewed at http://search.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-monia-ips-ifcp-01.txt.

Brocade's proposal, which isn't posted online, was reportedly well received. For one thing, Brocade is one of the more powerful players in the SAN market, and it has been noticeably absent from previous standards efforts. It's even been called obstructionist, attending some meetings but blocking activities that were not perceived to be supportive of its ongoing market dominance. That's changed, apparently, and Brocade has been welcomed into the IETF fold.That doesn't mean participants in the IP Storage Working Group think they have to accept Brocade's proposal. Members have an open mind about reviewing the specs and adding them if they improve the overall reliability and efficiency of the new protocol.

Still, it looks good for Brocade. "We expect to see a new draft that absorbs the content of Brocade's proposal," says Murali Rajagopal, chief scientist of startup LightSand Communications, who's played a leading role in the FCIP specs.

The Nishan Systems camp is a wholly different story. Nishan is a startup, and its proposal calls for a separate working group track. "They're facing an uphill battle. It could win, but it's going to be tough," said the unnamed attendee. Although Nortel, Sun, and Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) have leant support, word has it that Brocade and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) openly oppose the measure.

"Some of the participants think that adopting Nishan's proposal would give Nishan a faster way to market," says the anonymous source. "I think they have a fifty-fifty chance of getting their proposal adopted."

But participants are optimistic about the momentum behind the group as a whole. "It's just my personal opinion, but I think we'll have a very stable document within six months," says Rajagopal. "There's tremendous market pull to make this happen." He says makers of equipment are eager to implement the specs even before they're finalized.More information from the meeting is expected to be posted tomorrow on the group's reflector. Information on how to join that mailing list, as well as details about the working group's charter and work to date may be found at:http://www.ietf.org/html.charters/ips-charter.html and at http://www.ece.cmu.edu/~ips/.

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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