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Dell Bets On iSCSI For Networking Convergence

iSCSI serves as a satisfactory basis for implementing converged networking over 1 Gb Ethernet broadly used in corporate networking and data centers, Dell says.
Furthermore, Asthana says, iSCSI will continue to be the right standard as Ethernet moves up to 40 Gb per second and 100 Gb per second speeds. In short, iSCSI is a standard that's proven good enough for today's needs at 1 Gb speeds and will remain good enough far into the future. Other server vendors can try to convert the world to using Fibre Channel over Ethernet, a step that would require follow up investment in adapters and switches, Asthana continued. "iSCSI has been tried and tested over 15 years. Why not talk Ethernet over Ethernet," he asked Jan. 12 in a face-to-face meeting with a team of InformationWeek editors. Doing so results in a network implementation that is "75% cheaper" in buying switches and host bus adapters connecting the server to the network.

Dell's implementation of converged networking relies on the DCB ,or the IEEE's existing Data Center Bridging standard. In addition to Cisco's DCE, there's another variation in the works, CEE or Converged Enhanced Ethernet, sponsored by Juniper Networks, IBM and other vendors. Asthana says Dell is sticking to the established standards, DCB and iSCSI. iSCSI was established as a standard by the IETF in 2003.

There's a major advantage in doing so, he says, that makes iSCSI modern again, despite the competing standards in the works. The roots of Fibre Channel networking lie in a hardwired approach to the storage network, which was assumed to be set up once for life.

Moving a virtual machine from one physical server to another, as in VMware's VMotion function, means the VM's storage connection over Fibre Channel will have to be remapped, probably by a storage administrator. With iSCSI, the remapping can occur automatically as the VM is moved because iSCSI matches up logically with the Internet Protocol, Asthana said.

As proof, Asthana said VMware develops its networking and storage components on an iSCSI based storage system so the mapping and remapping can occur automatically. "VMware develops its stuff on an EqualLogic storage system," he noted, and Dell acquired EqualLogic in 2008 for $1.4 billion, incorporating EqualLogic products into the storage systems that it sells.

"We've been banging the drum for iSCSI and DCB for three years," said Matt Baker, Dell's enterprise strategist for storage and networking in a separate interview. "They're not only good for virtualization, they're good for quality of service and other management issues," he added.

Dell has made its bet on where the future of network convergence will go because iSCSI and DCB "achieve those converged goals, even with today's 1 Gb Ethernet," he said.