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Microsoft Brings High-End Features to iSCSI

Microsoft plans to release version 2.0 of its iSCSI initiator next month, and the software giant has added features that could make Windows-based IP storage more attractive for high-end users.

Microsoft announced this week that version 2.0 of the Microsoft Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) Software Initiator is ready to be released to manufacturing and will be available via download by mid-April.

Improvements in the second version include integration with Microsoft Multipath I/O (MPIO), support for all error recovery levels, and support for Windows Server x64 Editions.

The new version of the initiator includes the Microsoft iSCSI Device Specific Module (DSM), which allows for easy deployment of iSCSI multi-pathing solutions. The extensible Microsoft MPIO architecture also allows iSCSI vendors to plug in their own DSMs. Both approaches offer Microsoft iSCSI customers a supported failover and load balancing solution using the Windows server platform. Such high-availability and performance features could make iSCSI-based storage from Redmond more attractive for high-end users.

"iSCSI is already a viable alternative to Fibre Channel SANs, and has already begun to appear alongside FC-based SANs in enterprise IT environments," says Michael Karp, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "The Microsoft contribution here is that it makes iSCSI-based storage available to environments that want to remain exclusively Windows-based. Storage hardware vendors will like it because it provides a de facto standard to build against, and thereby allows large companies and small to compete on an essentially level playing field based on specific features."

Karp notes that Microsoft's iSCSI initiator "is hardly the only standard, however. Linux-based solutions are a significant segment of the iSCSI market, and a variety of products work extremely well for companies that don't want (or don't believe in) the Microsoft solution."

Microsoft says there have been about 1,000 downloads of the 2.0 beta version of the initiator, and about 20,000 downloads of version 1.0. There are currently 3,000 users running applications on iSCSI using the initiator.

Microsoft has been busy expanding the availability of hardware components designed to interoperate with Windows and Microsoft iSCSI Software Initiator version 2.0. In November, Microsoft extended the Designed for Windows Logo Program to include iSCSI devices to let independent hardware vendors qualify their iSCSI hardware components for use with Windows. To ensure interoperability and simplify deployments, Microsoft recently hosted an iSCSI "Plugfest" attended by iSCSI device vendors.

Companies who have successfully qualified their iSCSI products and support the new 2.0 release of the Microsoft initiator include: Adaptec, ATTO, Broadcom, Crossroads, Cisco, EqualLogic, EMC, Falconstor, HP, Intel, Intransa, Lefthand Networks, Network Appliance, Promise Technology, QLogic, SpectraLogic, SANRAD, Stonefly Networks and String Bean Software.

For more information, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/storage/technologies/iscsi/default.mspx.

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