Technology Spotlight: Studio Network Solutions' Next-Gen Storage

May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Oliver Masciarotte

Low-Cost, Multi-User Access Via iSCI-Based Systems


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SANs are storage for high rollers — or are they? Storage Area Networks are specialized storage systems that allow multi-user access, as server-attached storage does, but also provide high performance, which SAS cannot. To overcome the adoption barrier that the high cost of traditional SANs impose, Studio Network Solutions has introduced a new family of storage products based on the recently adopted iSCSI protocols instead of the more complex and costly Fibre Channel standard that the company already supports. Its globalSAN™ iSCSI storage solution uses the universal Internet Protocol (IP), upon which both the Internet and Ethernet are based, to transport encapsulated SCSI commands. This encapsulation, or packaging, allows IP-based storage to use commodity infrastructure for rapid, cost-effective transport of block-level I/O data over existing high-speed networks.

Unlike NAS, or network-attached storage, which provides relatively sluggish performance of only file-level data, iSCSI allows for true block-level manipulation over LANs, MANs and WANs (local, metropolitan and wide-area networks). This means that, rather than moving entire files from storage to a local node or computer for processing and then saving the modified file in its entirety back to the NAS, iSCSI allows for reading and writing inside of a file while it resides on the remote storage device.

The iSCSI protocol takes into account the myriad problems typically found in a local, metropolitan or wide-area networked environment. Trouble is, although Microsoft has a Windows-native iSCSI initiator available for download, Apple does not. So, Studio Network Solutions had to build Mac OS X — native iSCSI initiator software and provide its own iSCSI Host Bus Adapter — another piece of the puzzle not available for Mac OS. The company's HBA is a multi-port PCI-X card with support for link aggregation and jumbo frames, features that considerably improve throughput.

With all of the low-level pieces in place, the Studio Network Solutions development team needed to provide a means for the end-user to control the day-to-day operations of his or her storage network. Because they already had full management and networked storage functionality in their existing SANmp™ software, they extended it to include the necessary bits to interoperate with iSCSI, as well. This means that Windows, Mac and mixed or heterogeneous network clients can all dynamically share both Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage assets without compromise.

One of the problems with any network, including storage-centric networks, is security. The iSCSI standard provides for strong encryption using the IPsec or IPsecure protocol for transmission of sensitive data over unprotected networks. When asked what security issues an end-user should consider, Eric Newbauer, director of operations for SNS, provides some details: “An iSCSI-based SAN can actually be configured to be quite secure. The amount of security measures that clients will realistically want to take [will] depend upon whether they will be transferring data over their LAN or over the Internet. If it's the former and they want to keep their data safe from the outside world, the obvious answer would be to create a closed, dedicated network or configure their firewall to block access to the iSCSI ports from the outside. For public networks — like the Internet — they can set up a VPN using the IPsec protocol.” IPsec's strong encryption employs the Advanced Encryption Standard, the industry and government choice for mission-critical security.

Gary Holladay, SNS president and chief systems designer, sums up the value of the company's globalSAN product line, stating, “Most importantly, they offer performance nearing that of Fibre Channel over multi-Gigabit Ethernet. We'll certainly continue developing and supporting our line of A/V SAN PRO Fibre Channel systems, but we believe there's a substantial number of production companies that simply don't have the budget and/or the need for a pure Fibre Channel solution. For those that already have a SAN or have been thinking about implementing one, we've really opened up their options. Support for iSCSI will now be included with our existing SANmp volume sharing software.

“This means that, in addition to concurrently supporting Mac and Windows on the same network, the standard version enables volume-level shared storage networking for both FC and IP-based SANs,” he continued. “For those that just need support for iSCSI, they'll have the option to use the new iSANmp version of the software. The realm of platforms and protocols that our software supports enables us to accommodate practically any facility's needs — large or small.”

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