iSCSI Stretches Out

Startups and established vendors are ramping up their iSCSI efforts

October 12, 2007

4 Min Read
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More and more vendors are putting their faith in iSCSI as a way for users to reap the benefits of emerging technologies such as 10-Gbit/s Ethernet.

This week, for example, startup 4Blox unveiled a software-based alternative to iSCSI HBAs; LSI extended iSCSI support across its Engenio product line; and OnStor CEO Bob Miller outlined plans to provide an iSCSI gateway device.

First up was 4Blox, which took the wraps off a software package called 4Mezzo to offload iSCSI processing in a manner similar to existing HBAs.

"With port aggregation of multiple gigs and technologies like 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, CPUs can become constrained," says 4Blox CEO Dan Munro. "Our software offloads the burden on the CPU for those workloads."

San Jose, Calif.-based 4Blox, which announced its first round of private equity funding last month, has teamed up with Red Hat to run its iSCSI software within that vendor's Enterprise Linux operating system. "When we have done one Linux version, it's easier to do others like AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, and SUSE," says Munro, adding that these are all on the vendor's roadmap, along with Windows.The exec claims that 4Mezzo can boost CPU performance by as much as a factor of 10, and the firm is pushing the software as a low-cost alternative to iSCSI HBAs from QLogic and Alacritech.

"There's a great deal of communication that goes on between iSCSI and TCP," he explains, adding that this can be a huge drain on TCP resources. "What we have done is effectively optimize and eliminate large blocks of that communication."

Like a number of vendors, 4Blox is playing the "green" card, pushing 4Mezzo as a way for users to limit the amount of hardware in their data centers.

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Brian Garrett nonetheless feels that 4Blox is taking an interesting approach to iSCSI. "It's something very different," he says. "This is really smart software that can be put in a NIC at one end of the wire, or in a storage controller at the other end of the wire."

The rise of virtualization also plays to the startup's strengths. "As we see more people adopting server virtualization and storage consolidation using iSCSI, they are going to want to get as much as they can out of the CPU on the server," says Garrett.The analyst also urged users to consider the differences between 4Blox and a traditional hardware-based HBA. "iSCSI HBAs do a lot more, but they cost a lot more," he says. "You can use an iSCSI HBA to boot over a SAN, but that's not part of what 4Blox does."

As well as iSCSI , 4Blox will be looking to address other protocols such as CIF and NFS at some point in the future, although Munro would not say when these will be offered.

The initial version of 4Mezzo works with target devices, although an initiator version of the iSCSI software will be available in the first half of next year.

There are currently six organizations evaluating the software, although CEO Munro is unwilling to name names. "Most of them are stateless NIC vendors, [although] there is one that's a very large OEM storage vendor," he says.

The 4Mezzo target software will be available later this month, priced at $150 per iSCSI port.4Blox is just one of a growing number of vendors that are now throwing their weight behind iSCSI as a low-cost storage fabric. Despite claims by Fibre Channel proponents, including those touting the new Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) spec, iSCSI is on the rise, according to its supporters.

Another vendor adding flesh to the bones of its iSCSI strategy this week was LSI, which added a QLogic iSCSI router to its high-end SANtricity products and took the wraps off its iSCSI-based 1532 storage system.

The 36-Tbyte 1532 system contains up to 48 SAS or SATA drives and is being pushed in the direction of smaller businesses. LSI has already clinched one OEM deal for the 1532, which forms the basis of IBM's DS3300 product.

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  • Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG)

  • 4Blox Inc.

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Red Hat Inc.

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