IP Storage Test Draws Crowd

An iSCSI interop project is packin'em in at the U of NH, evincing support for IP storage protocols

July 18, 2001

3 Min Read
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An interoperability test of the iSCSI protocol is drawing a crowd of more than 30 startups and established vendors to the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (IOL) this week.

The test is being sponsored jointly by the lab and the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). SNIA has promoted and marketed the event as one of its IP Storage "plugfests," and UNH designed the test methodology and software suites.

Both the IOL and SNIA are consortiums that charge membership fees. But participants in this week's event don't have to belong to either group in order to join the test. They only have to pay the engineers' fees. That detail seems to have been key to enabling the mix of vendors who've shown up to attach their wares to the testbed. A partial list includes:

iSCSI, short for SCSI over IP, is one of three approaches being standardized by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in order to extend SANs beyond purely SCSI or Fibre Channel links to IP networks.

In all, 31 vendors registered for the test, and all of them showed up yesterday for the event, which ends Friday afternoon. "The turnout has been fantastic," said one participant. Contributions to the tests seem to be coming equally from providers of servers and storage devices, he noted.The response seems to indicate a growing momentum behind IP as the key mechanism for interoperability in SANs.

"This demonstration suggests that iSCSI and the IETF specs are designed to be heterogeneous, interoperable solutions," says Milan Merhar, chief scientist at Pirus Networks.

The test grew out of suggestions by SNIA's IP Storage Forum, a marketing group that aims to promote the work of the IETF. Supporters say SNIA's cheerleading could be key to the future of IP SANs.

"This kind of event is essential, both for technical and philosophical reasons," says Merhar. "The IETF won't promote a standard unless there are multiple, interoperable demos. No paper tigers become RFCs."

The test doesn't have everyone's support. Among the many missing are Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and EMC Corp.But SNIA spokespeople say they plan other plugfests to promote the other two IETF specs, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) and iFCP (Internet Fibre Channel Storage). Indeed, an FCIP test is tentatively scheduled to coincide with the meeting of the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) later this month.

Some vendors, such as Nishan Systems and Pirus, plan to participate in all of the festing and testing. "Our customers tell us these specs are complementary," says Pirus's Merhar. "They may use FCIP to link two Fibre Channel segments together, and iSCSI for remote SAN connectivity."

For its part, Nishan says it's hedging its bets. In speaking of last week's establishment of SNIA's FCIP subgroup (see SNIA's FCIP Group Debuts), spokespeople say they favor iFCP but are willing to support all three emerging IP SAN protocols. That should enable Nishan Systems to market its wares as multiprotocol SAN solutions, they say.

It remains to be seen just where all of this testing is going. Traditionally, interoperability troubles have plagued the storage networking industry. The SNIA is by its own admission a marketing group, not a standards body capable of effecting real change. Only time will tell whether its influence reflects a solid move in a new direction.

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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