Dueling SAN Specs Demo'd at Show

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) and Nishan Systems Inc. are demonstrating two distinct approaches to putting storage area networks (SANs) over IP at the Storage Networking World show here today.

Lucent is demonstrating Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) while Nishan is showing SCSI over IP (iSCSI) -- competing approaches for extending the reach of SANs over wide-area networks. Both are being considered for standardization by the IP Storage Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (see IP Storage Spec Shapes Up).

Lucent's demo is based on the addition of an FCIP blade to its OptiStar EdgeSwitch, which is designed to link service provider points of presence to the optical backbone. The new module, which was announced April 2 and is in beta test pending shipment later this quarter, is based on the latest (not the final) draft of the IETF's spec. (For a copy of the spec, click http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-ietf-ips-fcovertcpip-01.txt.)

Predictably, the FCIP spec has the backing of Fibre Channel switch makers such as Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Gadzoox Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: ZOOX), and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDT). Those vendors coauthored the spec along with Lucent; QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC), which makes Fibre Channel host bus adapters; and LightSand Communications, a stealth startup. The FCIP document calls for the encapsulation of Fibre Channel frames inside IP packets in order to extend Fibre Channel SANs across IP WANs. Today, Fibre Channel has a distance limit of about 10 kilometers.

Lucent says the reason it's thrown its weight behind the spec is to ensure that metro-area service providers who use its OptiStar platform can get SAN connectivity "right now," as Fibre Channel is the main transport protocol for SANs. Later on, spokespeople say, there may be a need to support the other key IETF approach, iSCSI. But not now.

In its demo, Nishan Systems is using iSCSI to link its IPS series of storage switches to a range of vendors' storage gear, including RAID boxes from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), gigabit Ethernet gear from Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), and the OPTera Metro optical networking platform from Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT).

iSCSI creates IP encapsulation for traffic based on the Small Computer Systems Interface that commonly links storage tape drives and disk arrays to computer hosts. Nishan also is backing iFCP (Internet Fibre Channel Storage), which converts Fibre Channel for use over IP, although that spec isn't being shown in Nishan's demo. (For copies of the specs, click http://www.ietf.org/html.charters/ips-charter.html and scroll the list of Internet Drafts at the foot of the page.)

Nishan worked with a slew of vendors on the iSCSI and iFCP specs, including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HWP), IBM, Nortel, Pirus Networks, Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), and Vixel Corp. (Nasdaq: VIXL), as well as several host adapter and storage device vendors.

Right now, it seems the divisions among the various IETF SAN approaches are more political than theoretical. As noted, FCIP, iSCSI, and iFCP all are part of the same IETF working group. A common naming service has been created for use with all. That spec, called iSNA (for Internet Storage Name Service) will enable management systems and directories to reference equipment that uses FCIP as well as iSCSI and iFCP, according to Internet drafts (see http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-ietf-ips-isns-01.txt.) .

But no love is lost among the backers of the different specs. Nishan, for instance, has claimed "puzzlement" over Brocade's ongoing support of Fibre Channel as the main SAN transport (see Cisco’s Secret SAN Strategies Revealed). Brocade, in turn, has finally outlined its IP strategy (see Brocade Unveils Big SAN Switch), but is vague about when IP will -- if ever -- dominate the SAN market.

How it all plays out remains to be seen, and many vendors and service providers are hedging their bets, figuring they'll have to support multiple specs at one time or another. Startup Pirus, for instance, says it sees a place for devices supporting a range of protocols.

"It's too early to tell in terms of trends," says Sam Khanna, VP of alliances for IBM Global Services, the integration arm of IBM Corp. In a separate interview with Light Reading last week, Khanna said his focus was to offer as many solutions as possible to customers, then provide more emphasis on one area as it becomes more popular.

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com
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