NetApp Blitzes on iSCSI

NAS giant rushes out free iSCSI option for its filers. Is it safe to go in the IP SAN water?

February 19, 2003

4 Min Read
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Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) is giving away iSCSI software support for its filers for free in an attempt to kick-start sales of IP SAN technology (see NetApp Delivers iSCSI).

NetApp rushed out its iSCSI option less than a week after the standard was officially ratified by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Three years in development, iSCSI is designed to send block-level storage over TCP/IP networks (see iSCSI Gets Go-Ahead).

The company plans to resell Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) PRO/1000 T IP storage adapters, which are Gigabit Ethernet network interface cards designed to offload protocol processing functions from host processors. Customers would install the Intel iSCSI adapters on servers to access NetApp filers via iSCSI. Currently, the iSCSI option is only available for Windows servers, with a Linux version in the works.

NetApp now offers block-level storage systems for both Fibre Channel and Ethernet (IP) networks. Last fall, the company introduced the FAS900, its first SAN-enabled storage array (see NetApp Does the Storage Two-Step).

However, while NetApp ordinarily charges hefty fees for extra software options, it's giving away the iSCSI software free to current customers of its F800 and F900 NAS filers. Why? The company says it wants to "accelerate the technology's adoption.""We as a company are extremely bullish on iSCSI," says Keith Brown, director of technology at NetApp. "It fundamentally changes the economics of putting together block-level SANs. It allows you to put together the semantics of a Fibre Channel SAN using conventional infrastructure."

Reading between the lines, though, another interpretation of this move is that not many enterprises would be willing to pay for iSCSI today. It is, after all, a technology that is just getting out of the gate. Tellingly, NetApp -- which issued seven separate press releases today -- wasn't able to specify a single customer that is using the iSCSI option yet. "We currently don't have any customers using iSCSI products," says a NetApp spokeswoman. She says there have been beta customers, but none that are referenceable yet.

While NetApp says it has no plans to ever charge for iSCSI, it will want money for the Intel PRO/1000 T IP Storage Adapters. These are priced at $1,500 each. In the near future, Brown says, NetApp plans to qualify more iSCSI products and software. "Ultimately I'd like iSCSI initiators to be like NFS [Network File System] clients," he says.

NetApp is making the iSCSI support available to customers of its FAS900 series, F800 series, and F87 filers as an upgrade to the Data OnTap operating system software. Brown says all customers need to do is "download our Data OnTap 6.4 release, run it on their existing filers, create some LUNs [logical unit numbers], and slap it out via the iSCSI service. It's really that simple." Administrators manage iSCSI LUNs via the usual NetApp tools, he says.

However, no major enterprise applications have been certified to work with NetApp's iSCSI implementation, including neither Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) SQL Server and Exchange Server nor Oracle Corp.'s (Nasdaq: ORCL) 9i database. Brown says NetApp will pursue certifications with these applications in due course.NetApp has become the second major vendor to introduce an iSCSI-based storage product. IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), you will recall, rolled out the iSCSI-based TotalStorage IP Storage 200i in mid-2001, but Big Blue stopped "actively selling" it last year after it failed to attract interest (see IBM Ditches iSCSI Box).

Will NetApp fare any better, now? Brown notes that "some vendors jumped the gun on the spec." But other players -- including NetApp's chief rival, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) -- believe it is still too early for iSCSI storage.

"The way we're seeing the market play out, in 2003, there's not going to be a huge uptake of iSCSI," says Paul Ross, EMC's director of storage network marketing. He says EMC has iSCSI-based storage systems in its labs but adds that "we're not going to bring a product to market until people want to buy it."

Still, NetApp's swift move to support iSCSI now that it has been ratified is seen as a benediction by others in the IP storage space. "It's important to have a large vendor like NetApp validate the market," says Peter Hayden, CEO of EqualLogic Inc., which is building its own iSCSI-based array (see EqualLogic Draws Bank's Interest).

In other news, NetApp rolled out a new model of NearStore, its disk-based backup system, which doubles the capacity of the original. The NearStore R150 provides 24 TBytes per module and twice the backup throughput (up to 430 GBytes per hour) for around $240,000 (see NetApp Upgrades NearStore and NetApp's Backup Plan).NetApp also earned Microsoft's approval for its FAS960c-FCP storage systems in clustered Windows environments (see NetApp OK'd for Microsoft Clusters).

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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