NetApp's IP SAN Wins a Fan

GPS developer Trimble Navigation gives high marks to iSCSI setup from NetApp and Adaptec

March 12, 2003

4 Min Read
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Trimble Navigation Ltd., a developer of Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies, has been testing out an iSCSI-based SAN for almost a month -- and it gives the technology an early nod of approval.

The company has been running three Windows 2000 servers configured with iSCSI adapters developed by Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) connected via a 12-port Gigabit Ethernet switch to an iSCSI-enabled Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP) filer. The setup has been running for three-and-a-half weeks in Trimble's Sunnyvale, Calif., data center without a hitch, says Shawn Wilde, the company's director of IS operations.

"It's technically flawless," he says. "Once we got the system up and running, we haven't made one phone call to Adaptec or NetApp."

Trimble tested the Adaptec/NetApp configuration for two days straight, Wilde says, transferring data sets of between 200 and 300 Mbytes -- generated by the company's GPS chip simulations -- among the servers.

"We set a pretty high bar for these guys, and it was absolutely flawless performance," Wilde says. "Windows 2000 has its own limits on speed... but I never saw delays or dropped packets. Basically, the team came back and said, 'You can't tell you're not on direct-attached storage.' I found it a pretty clean implementation."This technology, however, is still in its earliest phases of market rollout. NetApp last month introduced a free iSCSI software upgrade for its F800 and F900 NAS filers, which closely followed on the heels of the official ratification of the first version of the iSCSI specification by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Meanwhile, the final versions of Adaptec's iSCSI adapters aren't even shipping yet; company executives expect them to become available in the second quarter (see NetApp Blitzes on iSCSI, iSCSI Gets Go-Ahead, and Adaptec Details IP SAN Betas).

Wilde says he hooked up in the iSCSI beta program after touring Adaptec's development labs, located just down the street in Milpitas, Calif. "One of the advantages of being in Silicon Valley is we went over to Adaptec, saw it running in their lab, and said, 'Can we try that out?' "

Why is Trimble interested in iSCSI? To explain why he isn't considering a Fibre Channel SAN, Wilde provides two reasons: the fact that the up-front cost of the Ethernet hardware is lower, and that his administrators are familiar with Ethernet.

"I don't know what the final price point is going to be on the iSCSI technology, but I think it will come in at a very favorable price point," he says. "Then, when I look at the skills of my staff, iSCSI is a lot easier for my Windows servers guys to get their arms around. When you're talking about Fibre Channel... they don't know how to work with that."

As far as why he would prefer to use iSCSI instead of NAS, Wilde says iSCSI allows much greater flexibility over how back-end storage is allocated. NetApp's iSCSI storage management software, which resides on the filer, is another very attractive piece of the IP SAN Trimble is testing out. The software allows users to partition the pool of disk space and allocate it to individual servers."SCSI over Gig E doesn't seem to be a monstrous task by itself -- it's the storage virtualization software they wrap around that," Wilde says. He adds that the NetApp software is really quite simple to use. "My administrators got it the very first time they used it."

Overall, though, Wilde comes across as having already concluded that iSCSI is a viable option for his company, as if the NetApp/Adaptec beta trial has served mainly to confirm his presuppositions. We should also point out that technology companies like Trimble tend to be early adopters of new technologies. And what's more, Wilde admits that if Trimble had a larger amount of storage to manage today, he would seriously consider a conventional FC SAN.

"If I had 5 terabytes of data, I would probably buy Fibre Channel," he says. "I think iSCSI's in the sweet spot in the market between direct-attached and Fibre Channel." Trimble currently manages around 1 Tbyte of storage at its headquarters facility.

But as time goes by, he says, the lower price points of iSCSI-based storage will factor into the equation. "I thought it was well worth the trouble to look at the beta of the iSCSI technology up front," he says.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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