Despite the tremendous success of Internet Small Computer System Interfaces (iSCSI) over the past few years, two technical limitations have traditionally slowed its adoption as a protocol driving storage area networks (SANs): limited performance and inefficient access to Fibre Channel.
Chelsio, the market and technology leader enabling the convergence of networking, storage and clustering traffic over 10 Gigabit Ethernet, recently announced a series of products that extend accelerated iSCSI connectivity to storage resources across the enterprise infrastructure.
Currently, iSCSI running over the general-purpose network stack often carries a compromise. Additionally, many parts of the iSCSI transaction utilize a host’s general purpose processing resources, and the unique characteristics of iSCSI may make less than fully efficient use of those resources.
Another limitation is that iSCSI has often not provided efficient access to Fibre Channel and other vital storage resources. Together, these shortcomings have caused some storage managers to view iSCSI as a “poor cousin” relative to Fibre Channel in enterprise SANs. In addition to these inherent shortcomings, the sheer simplicity of iSCSI may ironically have limited its growth.
Chelsio, which has long focused on accelerating storage networks, recently announced a solution to overcome these limitations. The accelerated Chelsio fabric unlocks IP encapsulated storage traffic allowing it to perform and stream with the same efficiency as the highest performance fabrics, matching the low CPU utilization and high throughput of equivalent Fibre Channel and even Infiniband fabrics.
“With 10 GbE now gaining momentum in the enterprise, Chelsio has an opportunity to become the de facto connection to high-performance pools of storage, bringing the vision of a unified storage fabric, accessible from anywhere, one step closer to reality,” according to a Taneja Group report.
To achieve that, Chelsio has developed an iSCSI acceleration technology comprised of a Terminator 3 (T3) adapter upon which three newest storage solutions are built. This technology powers nearly 100,000 Chelsio-based adapter ports now running in storage networks for customers ranging from large enterprises to small businesses. The ASIC provides acceleration for iSCSI, RDMA (iWARP) and TCP (via a TOE).
According to the supplier, T3 represents the latest generation of Chelsio’s iSCSI acceleration technology that delivers strong transaction-level performance, in excess of 15 million packets per second. With each generation of the Terminator architecture, the company has increased throughput and reduced latency significantly. In the transition from the T2 to T3, for example, the company shrank the process size from 180 nm to 130 nm, on the order of 30 percent, and reduced latency by close to 70 percent. T3 performance is wire speed and about 7 us latency. The company expects to achieve similar improvements in future generations of the product while retaining backward software compatibility.
Leveraging its technology, Chelsio has readied a suite that comprises software-based Unified Storage Server (USS 1.1), a 10 Gigabit Ethernet Unified Storage Router (USR 1100) and Unified Manager (UM). The UM provides a quick and easy way to access iSCSI network components, and to remotely manage the client side of a LAN or SAN installation.
While the USS 1.1 enables users to rapidly convert any x86 or Power PC based platform into a storage target, supporting not just iSCSI SANs but NAS protocols as well, the USR 1100 allows customers to cost-effectively extend existing Fibre Channel SAN investments by integrating inexpensive Ethernet-connected servers into the SAN, without the need for additional arrays or switches, and to extend SAN advantages into remote locations that could not afford the cost of Fibre Channel.
Overall, the UM saves administrators considerable time in managing both the network and SAN. For end user organizations with limited IT budgets or multiple remote office applications, the UM allows any number of Chelsio adapters to be remotely deployed and monitored without breaking the bank. When it is combined with Chelsio Unified Storage products, the UM will soon go one step further, and provide an integrated management interface (available either as a GUI or CLI) for managing both the Unified Storage Router and Storage Server. Thus, providing users with an end-to-end SAN management solution.
In essence, the USR provides an iSCSI gateway, based on T3 technology, which unlocks access to storage resources. The integrated T3 technology delivers the performance and scalability required for both local and cross-site consolidation of Fibre Channel and iSCSI fabrics, via the connection of SANs to Ethernet-based LANs and WANs .
Based on internal published benchmarks, the USR demonstrates maximum throughput of 750 MBps reads or writes with4G FC ports, and 1130 MBps reads or writes with 8G FC ports. The USR supports up to 32K iSCSI connections, enough to address the needs of even the largest storage networks. Customers gain SAN-like benefits by taking advantage of low-cost Ethernet switches, avoiding the need for more expensive DCE or CEE switches.
The USR features hot swappable, dual blades in a 1U form factor, along with Multi-Path I/O for both Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage. When installed in a Windows Server (2003/2008) environment, the USR also supports Windows iSCSI Initiator Cluster Nodes. Collectively, making USR suitable for high availability and disaster recovery applications.
While the USR’s performance, availability and connectivity characteristics allow it to address the requirements of large enterprises, a number of other features make it a good solution for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) as well. In its 1U form factor, the USR is both compact and power efficient. The USR supports a number of leading Windows, Linux and VMware based iSCSI initiators, allowing it to fit easily into existing environments. The USR provides automated configuration, online upgradability, and built-in management, making it easy to set up, install and administer.
Though the USR can run on any iSCSI network, the device is even more powerful and capable on a network that includes Chelsio’s adapters.
According to technology analyst Taneja Group, the packaging, modularity and ease of deployment of Chelsio’s Unified Storage solution will appeal to channel partners, just as their flexibility, manageability, and low cost will be attractive to end users.
Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Carrie Schmelkin