Nishan Systems Inc.s IPS 3000 Switch bridges the gap between Fibre Channel SANs and Gigabit Ethernet networks, helping to pave the way for the long-awaited convergence of storage and IP networking.
The state of standards for storage over IP is in flux (see related Tech Analysis at www.eweek.com/links), so, for now, it will be difficult to make long-term storage networking infrastructure plans. But products such as the IPS 3000 Switch will allow IT managers to leverage existing Gigabit Ethernet technology to tie Fibre Channel storage pools together.
Keep in mind, however, that 2G-bit Fibre Channel has just arrived, 10G-bit Ethernet is due this summer and 10G-bit Fibre Channel will closely follow. The IPS 3000 and systems like it will have to evolve quickly to maintain their positions as valid convergence points.
The IPS 3000 Switch began shipping early last month at a price of $15,995 for the base unit with redundant power supplies—about the same price you would expect to pay for a Fibre Channel switch.
The switch relies on mFCP (Metropolitan Fibre Channel Protocol) to transfer data across IP network segments. mFCP uses User Datagram Protocol, a connectionless Internet protocol that doesnt guarantee packet delivery but moves traffic at a faster rate compared with discrete protocols such as TCP. The Nishan switch therefore is best suited for LAN and metropolitan area network environments, where network congestion and packet loss are not as problematic as they are on a WAN.
Making the switch
In tests, eweek labs was able to easily set up the IPS 3000 Switch to link servers to a Fibre Channel JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) through a Gigabit Ethernet network.
The IPS 3000 has eight switch ports that can be configured to support either Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet. Its important to note, however, that the IPS 3000 must be rebooted to switch between protocols. Youll have to plan for downtime when configuring the switch.
Management of the IPS 3000 is performed through Nishans SANvergence Manager, a Java-based management applet. We were impressed that we could manage all our switches and devices from this management console; most bundled storage management solutions are rather primitive in comparison.
Using the management console, we were also able to set up link aggregation on the Gigabit Ethernet side to create large virtual connections from trunk ports. However, link aggregation is supported only between IPS 3000 switches and not through off-the-shelf Gigabit Ethernet switches.
On the Fibre Channel side, SANvergence Managers zone management interface was fairly easy to navigate, allowing us to drag and drop storage devices and hosts into our Fibre Channel zones.
The IPS 3000 is the first SAN (storage area network) switch we have seen to implement iSNS (Internet Storage Name Server), an Internet Engineering Task Force standard in progress that is being groomed to become the naming database for storage devices. The iSNS would replace the Fibre Channel generic services name server that is now being used in fabric products, vastly improving scalability and reliability. This is important because the use of storage-over-IP protocols will significantly increase the number of devices on SANs.