Network Appliance has launched a testing scheme, designed to reassure users that the new iSCSI protocol is ready for use in business networks. The tests, carried out by a third party, have already shown that Adaptec’s iSCSI network cards work with Network Appliances storage devices. With Microsoft drivers in place, it could be time to consider running storage over Ethernet.

“iSCSI is a cost effective way to build SANs at much lower cost point, giving users greater consolidation in their environment,” said Ashley Robinson, marketing manger for Northern Europe at Network Appliance. “It will make it easier to scale storage networks, building them at a lower price point, so users can include servers they would otherwise not have considered.”

The iSCSI standard, allows users to run storage area networks (SANs) over existing Ethernet, or wide area networks, instead of using the specialist SAN network, Fibre Channel. Ratified by the IETF standards body in February, it allows block-based storage transfer over IP networks.

Under the programme, companies making iSCSI adapters will go to a third party testing company, Finisar, to prove that their products worth with Network Appliance’s iSCSI storage systems. “We were the first storage company to openly support the agreed standard,” said Robinson. “As other companies come to market, it will appeal to customers.”

For customers with NetApp F800 and FAS900 systems, iSCSI support is a free download from the Network Appliance web site, which Robinson reports is proving popular. “iSCSI is not widely adopted as a protocol, but people are trying it out and seeing how it would fit in their environment,” he said.

The branding program is not there to find problems, but to reassure users that iSCSI will be simple, said Robinson. “The challenge with any new technology, is getting customers to feel confident that it will deliver the level of service they require, and allow them to get products from multiple sources,” said Robinson. “People have a view that it is a complex process. In the SAN world, interoperability is still a challenge, and a lot of money is spent on certifications on vendor platforms.”

The first to be certified was the Intel PRO/1000 T IP storage adapter and next up was the Adaptec 7211 iSCSI host bus adapter. These are no surprise, since the companies have worked closely together in iSCSI development and demonstrations. Robinson hopes that future products to be certified will include Cisco and others.

iSCSI has received a number of recent boosts, including Microsoft’s release of an iSCSI driver that can back up Windows 2000, 2003 and XP over iSCSI. Cisco has hedged its bets with an IP storage module for its MDS9000 fabric switch, that handles both iSCSI and FCIP.

The tests for Network Appliance’s programme are carried out by optical Gigabit specialist Finisar, at its Medusa Labs in Austin, Texas. They check the product works and keeps data integrity, even when performing under stress and when errors are deliberately injected.