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SANs: IP set to succeed Fibre Channel in 2003

Several new technologies which may replace Fibre Channel as the main way of providing connectivity to storage area network (SANs) will begin to make their mark in 2003, according to Brad Stamas, chairman of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

The SNIA, which consists of more than 250 members worldwide, covers technical standards development, education, interoperability and market development in storage networks and is now looking into SAN over IP (Internet Protocol), Stamas said at the Data Storage Expo in Tokyo last week.

There are three main proposed TCP/IP-based storage technologies for SAN, which are still in development for standardisation and support by the SNIA:

iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) A protocol for establishing and managing connections between IP-based storage devices, hosts and clients. It allows servers and switches to communicate using traditional SCSI commands over an IP network, and can therefore be set up with minimal additional hardware and existing IP network knowledge.

Several vendors are supporting this technology and it is therefore likely to appear sooner than the others, Stamas said.

FCIP (Fibre Channel IP) Similar to iSCSI, FCIP can control remote storage devices by sending Fibre Channel commands over an IP network. It is a tunneling protocol for connecting geographically separated Fibre Channel SANs.

iFCP (Internet Fibre Channel Protocol) For interconnecting Fibre Channel storage devices or Fibre Channel SANs using an IP infrastructure in place of Fibre Channel switching and routing elements.

However, although the SNIA expects IP storage network products will start to come out at the end of this year, there remains a variety of technical problems that need to be solved in these technologies, Stamas said.

IP storage networking means lower cost, greater ease of use and the ability of overcome distance limitations. But stability and security remain important issues yet to be resolved, Hiroshi Yoshida, chairman of SNIA Japan, said.

At the expo one user asked Stamas and Yoshida whether SANs really need to move on to the next-generation technologies now.

"Using IP network as a disaster measure while still keeping Fibre Channel infrastructures would be one of the possible ways to penetrate IP storage networks sooner," Yoshida said.

As investment in IP infrastructure has already taken place in some sites, the era of IP storage networks will come, Stamas said. The SNIA values both Fibre Channel and IP, and people should make a decision on which network to use based on their business need, he said.
 

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