SAN Protocol Choices Increase

With the recent emergence of Zetera Corp.'s Z-SAN protocol, IT managers will soon have another-cheaper and more lightweight-SAN protocol choice.

Think fibre channel and iSCSI are the only two storage area network protocols to choose from? Think again.

With the recent emergence of Zetera Corp.s Z-SAN protocol, IT managers will soon have another—cheaper and more lightweight—SAN protocol choice.

However, Z-SAN will be a fit only for small businesses, at least at first.

Vendor buy-in will also be a big issue—without that support, Z-SAN will be nothing but a novelty item.

Based on what eWEEK Labs has seen so far, Zeteras Z-SAN has potential in the small-business space, which has been largely ignored by major storage vendors.

But we cant get overly excited about this technology until we see it on a larger scale.

Zeteras protocol uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol) to quickly blast out storage data over IP networks.

The mere mention of UDP as a transport for block-level storage access should send shivers down the spine of storage managers worth their salt—after all, UDP has no built-in transmission control capabilities, and it cant compensate for packets that are lost on the network.

But on isolated networks, with limited hops between storage units and servers, packet loss will not be an issue.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs new BladeCenter 4G SAN offering.

The use of UDP in a storage protocol is not a new idea.

Close to four years ago, eWEEK Labs tested Nishan Systems mFCP protocol. mFCP was released a couple of years before iSCSI became a standard and died out soon after.

During our tests, mFCP was faster than iSCSI, although iSCSI has improved a great deal since then.

Nevertheless, were confident that the Zetera solution will be useful when implemented in the right situation.

In fact, running on inexpensive IP networks, Zeteras Z-SAN could be the thing that finally brings SAN technologies to SMBs (small and midsize businesses).

In contrast to iSCSI, which is a standard, Z-SAN makes use of a proprietary protocol for connecting storage to servers.

This could be a big hurdle to adoption as companies are apt to avoid getting tied into nonstandard technology.

Z-SAN is also different from iSCSI in that it is sessionless, which makes it less reliable but also more lightweight, in terms of resource consumption (both network and CPU).

Z-SAN also can perform RAID and disk mirroring in software as opposed to using expensive disk controllers, which is typical with iSCSI and Fibre Channel products.

The first example of Zeteras technology recently entered our labs in the form of Netgears SC101 appliance, which is targeted at homes and small businesses.

During tests, we were impressed with the SC101s ease of use—we were able to set up networked storage in a matter of minutes.

The SC101, which is priced inexpensively at $149, has two slots for hard drives, which will allow the small unit to hold up to 1TB of storage (using twin 500GB drives).

Speed is not the strength of this appliance—it is confined to Fast Ethernet pace—but its performance was adequate enough to stream MP3s and videos to our clients.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be contacted at

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