SOIP Marches on Despite Uncertainty

Storage over IP is getting a lot of attention from vendors looking to get a foot in the door of the burgeoning SAN space

Storage over IP is getting a lot of attention from vendors looking to get a foot in the door of the burgeoning SAN space. But whether this emerging technology will lure potential customers to finally deploy a storage area network in the first place is still an open question.

Last week at the Storage Networking World show here, Cisco Systems Inc. launched a major storage networking initiative that brings together a variety of partnerships, technologies and products. The initiative aims to cobble together IP, Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel and optical networks to help businesses deploy both network- attached storage devices and SANs.

Meanwhile, Intel Corp. released software to the open-source community to enable companies to build storage systems using common Ethernet components, and Nishan Systems Inc. announced a deal with IBM Global Services to resell Nishans SOIP switches.

Some proponents say IP represents a less expensive, easier, faster way to run a storage network, but others question whether IP can handle storage data effectively.

John Stephens, managed system administrator West for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of Fort Collins, Colo., will be setting up a SAN within a year and is considering SOIP and Fibre Channel. "We are doing more with less, figuring out what is going to be stable and who is going to be around the longest. We are all still looking into [SOIP]," Stephens said.

As part of its announcement, Cisco unveiled its two-port SN 5420 Storage Router, the first product based on its storage network initiative. In the area of SOIP, Cisco is working with IBM and Emulex Corp.

For its part, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., is pushing to get the iSCSI storage protocol adopted by businesses. The standard is under development by a subcommittee of the Internet Engineering Task Force, which should ratify it by early next year. Still, almost 250 companies are already developing iSCSI-based products that should be released later this year.

One area vendors are focusing on is how to give IP the ability to handle block-level storage data—through tunneling or a native IP strategy (see chart).

Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., is offering both. Nishan, also of San Jose, considers native IP to be the purest method. With tunneling, IT managers still must deal with the overhead of managing both Fibre Channel and IP networks.

But some say Gigabit Ethernet, a key component of an IP system, still has hurdles to clear. Its expensive to deploy, and customers who dont have a Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure wont realize the full benefits of IP storage.