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iSCSI SANs Compared

iSCSI SANs Compared
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Though certainly not exciting, business storage has been one of the key topics of interest during the last few years. Storage issues such as capacity, performance, reliability and manageability have been gaining attention, with the classic ways of attaching storage to servers increasingly considered inefficient and costly. Adding hard drives to servers typically entails downtime, and the upgrade path is often somewhat limited. However, existing network infrastructure such as Gigabit Ethernet has proven to be a fast and efficient way to attach dedicated storage appliances, not only to a single machine, but to various servers. Adaptec and Enhance Technology are very well aware of the advantages and offer flexible SAN solutions based on iSCSI (pronounced "i-scuzzy") for small and medium-sized businesses.

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The iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) protocol takes advantage of the TCP/IP network protocol to transport SCSI data. Despite being very similar to conventional SCSI, iSCSI does not necessarily require a powerful and expensive controller. The concept merely requires a so-called initiator, which resembles the iSCSI device trying to access an iSCSI storage device. The storage device is referred to as the iSCSI target, and it can be accessed by multiple initiators. Initiators can be devices as simple as ordinary Windows XP PCs like desktop PCs or laptops, but typically these are storage servers or similar machines. Unlike SCSI host adapters, which can be rather expensive, a solid network interface is good enough to get started here.

While conventional storage solutions require either SAS, SATA or SCSI interconnects to connect host PCs and storage devices, iSCSI products simply build on existing infrastructure. Enterprise-level Storage Area Networks (SANs) typically utilize Fibre Channel, but Gigabit Ethernet or faster has become increasingly attractive, as it is cost effective and available almost everywhere. Optional multi-path network connections allow either speeding up throughput between the iSCSI initiator and the target, or a high level of redundancy.

While iSCSI has mainly been offered by the large storage companies such as Adaptec or LSI, other players have realized the importance and the potential of the storage area network market and followed suit. The German company Open-E, which is in the middle of entering the North American market, offers attractive software modules to outfit machines of your choice with NAS or iSCSI features. Others, such as Enhance Tech, are trying to offer better bang for the buck than the more popular brands.

We received an entry-level Adaptec SnapServer 720 and the Enhance Tech EnhanceRAID T8 IP, which serve the same purpose, but go about their business in rather different ways.

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