SAN JOSE, Calif. ServerWorks Corp. has tipped plans to support the iSCSI protocol for Internet Protocol-based storage networks in its X86 server chip sets. Although details of the company's approach are not yet clear, some people familiar with the products said they could derail plans of companies like Alacritech Inc. and others that are making high-end adapter cards for iSCSI with TCP offload engines.
ServerWorks (Santa Clara, Calif.) will ship a firmware upgrade for its CIOB-E chip set later this year that accelerates some key iSCSI initiator functions. The firmware will run on two MIPS processors on a Gigabit Ethernet media-access controller (MAC) embedded on an I/O chip in the set.
The firmware will support block-level storage requests to a remote hard-disk array over Gigabit Ethernet. However, it will not support full gigabit/second line speeds. The company will do that in its next-generation chip set using upgraded MIPS cores and more memory in the upcoming MAC. That chip set is being designed for Intel Corp.'s next-generation server processor, which will sport an 800-Mbit/s processor bus.
ServerWorks would not say whether its iSCSI approach will provide full TCP termination. Many observers contend iSCSI will require such termination as part of a TCP offload engine (TOE) to attain full wire speed and not swamp the host processor.
ServerWorks contends that its approach can eliminate the need for the complex and expensive TCP offload engines in PC servers, at least at the Gigabit Ethernet generation. That flies in the face of a number of chip and card makers planning TOE-equipped iSCSI products that can cost several hundred dollars.
"We'll see iSCSI for tens of dollars per port in the chip set or on the motherboard. Basically, all servers in 2004 or 2005 will have iSCSI capabilities," said Kimball Brown, business development manager for ServerWorks.
"If they can do this for tens of dollars the people doing iSCSI will full TCP offload will have a big problem," said Bernd Winkelstriter, a senior technology analyst at server maker Fujitsu Siemens Computers GmbH (Paderborn, Germany).
The decision to use TOE silicon or not "is a trade-off of price and performance," said Jag Bolaria, an analyst who tracks storage silicon for The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.). "The bigger trend right now is that the whole trend toward IP storage seems to have stalled a bit" as conservative IT managers stick to storage networks using Fibre Channel, he said.
Brown said ServerWorks, a division of Broadcom Corp., also plans to support the IPsec security standard in its 2004-generation MAC. It will support remote direct memory access in its 2005 products, he added. RDMA is a technique popularized in Infiniband to speed up communications between systems and applications by reducing the need for buffering and calls to an operating-system kernel during read and write operations. By relying on ever-faster Intel processors, ServerWorks has taken the position that RDMA without TOE will be adequate for storage networking over IP.