Course on iSCSI Teaches Basics, Shows Promises, Shortcomings

By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2002-10-07

With the release of several iSCSI-based products and the backing of several standards groups, iSCSI in the last few weeks has attained "viable technology" status. Now is the time for early implementers to take a close look at the innards of this powerful protocol.

Last month, eWeek Labs audited a class on iSCSI architecture and instrumentation, one of the first of its kind, from the experts at Medusa Labs, a wholly owned subsidiary of Finisar Corp. The three-day, $1,895 class, titled "iSCSI Architecture and Instrumentation," took place at Medusas lab in Sunnyvale, Calif. (A variety of other companies, including Infinity I/O Inc., of Half Moon Bay, Calif., offer classes devoted to SANs.)

Participants spent much of the three-day course listening to lectures devoted to the inner workings of iSCSI. Medusa Labs experts covered key iSCSI processes, including authentication, connection creation and error recovery.

During the hands-on portion of the class, we used protocol analyzer tools to look at traces of iSCSI traffic. This tedious work would normally be done by quality assurance engineers and hardware developers, but it was fascinating to see how different vendors have implemented the iSCSI specifications.

Tracing exercises provided a stronger sense of how targets and initiators interact in an iSCSI environment. The ability to read protocol traces is invaluable, given that iSCSI is still in its infancy and that any IT department that attempts to implement these iSCSI-based systems now is really on the bleeding edge.

Our biggest disappointment with the class was that we did not get hands-on time with real working iSCSI gear. In earlier classes, Medusa Labs tried giving students hands-on exercises with early-release iSCSI gear, but that proved to be unproductive, according to Medusa officials.

The current inconsistency of iSCSI gear (large revisions of the specification have been released on nearly a monthly basis) makes it almost impossible to create an environment that is both consistent and up-to-date. We can see why Medusa Labs chose to concentrate teaching time on reading and analyzing protocol traces instead of on hardware setup.

However, after iSCSI is ratified and becomes more stable, we expect to see more classes where greater emphasis is placed on implementation, rather than on down-and-dirty protocol analysis. In fact, Medusa officials said they plan to ask course attendees to return for some hands-on testing.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at

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