IP storage: More products coming in 2003

Sales of IP storage products have been sluggish, to say the least. When will that change? We went to Paul Mattson, co-chair of the IP Storage Forum, an arm of the Storage Networking Industry Association, to find out. His day job is business line manager for IP storage at IBM.

Internet SCSI (iSCSI) storage sales have been slow. What will it take for those sales to pick up? There are a lot of vendors who've made investments in that technology who would like to know what the magic cookie is.

There are a number of things that need to happen before there's an ecosystem that's sufficiently rich -- the tipping factor that tips it from something that's emerging to something that's real.

There are products on the market now and there are customers deploying this now. But you're right that overall sales volume is very, very modest at this point.

The iSCSI standard has just reached the point where it's technically complete (download PDF of announcement). And I believe that there are a number of vendors who have products waiting in the wings, who will finish their testing and launch those products very soon.

We'll see an unleashing of products in the first quarter. That will give customers more choice; there will be more vendors supporting IP storage and that will give them more confidence.

Customers will begin experimenting with pilots in departmental and workgroup environments and let the technology's merits and savings bear out before large-scale rollouts.

One barrier has been problems with TCP off-load engines (TOE). It's true that TOEs are a key enabler, but IP storage can be used today in many applications with standard cards -- without TOEs.

Will disaster recovery be an early application of Internet Protocol (IP) storage? One of the extraordinary things about IP is that it's a fully routable protocol. So this storage network can be superimposed on networks with the broadest reach. That enables the separation of the storage resources from the servers.

Two other protocols, FCIP [Fibre Channel over IP] and iFCP [Internet Fibre Channel Protocol], are capable of bridging together existing Fibre Channel storage-area networks [SAN]. So if I have a Fibre Channel SAN in Chicago and I have one in New York, I can bridge them together over high-speed IP networks to support disaster recovery.

But you need some additional high-level software, such as copy services that make a copy of transactions to the storage array and mirror it to another site, so if one site goes down the other site can come online. This is another element of the ecosystem. Simply having an underlying protocol is one step, but the ecosystem around it needs to mature.

What will it take for IT managers to get comfortable with security for IP storage? There's a little confusion around the security question. Look at the Fibre Channel environment. There isn't security in the Fibre Channel environment beyond the lock on the machine-room door. If you take IP building blocks to create a SAN in a machine room, it's the same -- your security comes from the lock on the door. Where security becomes a consideration is when you use IP beyond the firewall and company premises, then there's the possibility of snooping and hacking.

In the iSCSI protocol, security has been accommodated with security measures that are mandatory for the system to be considered compliant, but they're optional for the customer to use.

Encryption elements are built into the standard, so when an iSCSI connection is made there's a negotiation between both ends about whether they will encrypt the data.

But it's understood that encryption is a compute-intensive operation. So there's a debate about how we're going to go 1G bit/sec. and do cryptography. It will take time and additional hardware -- these things are on the vendor road maps.

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