iSCSI or Internet SCSI (Small Computer System Interface), is an Internet Protocol (IP)-based storage networking standard for linking data storage facilities, developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). By carrying SCSI commands over IP networks, iSCSI is used to facilitate data transfers over intranets and to manage storage over long distances. The iSCSI protocol is among the key technologies expected to help bring about rapid development of the storage area network (SAN) market, by increasing the capabilities and performance of storage data transmission. Because of the ubiquity of IP networks, iSCSI can be used to transmit data over local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), or the Internet and can enable location-independent data storage and retrieval.
In computing, the iSCSI (for “Internet SCSI”) protocol allows clients (called initiators) to send SCSI commands (CDBs) to SCSI storage devices (targets) on remote servers. It is a popular Storage Area Network (SAN) protocol, allowing organizations to consolidate storage into data center storage arrays while providing hosts (such as database and web servers) with the illusion of locally-attached disks. Unlike traditional Fibre Channel, which requires special-purpose cabling, iSCSI can be run over long distances using existing network infrastructure.
iSCSI can run over existing Ethernet networks. A number of vendors, including Cisco, IBM, and Nishan have introduced iSCSI-based products (such as switches and routers).
Although iSCSI can communicate with arbitrary types of SCSI devices, system administrators almost always use it to allow server computers (such as database servers) to access disk volumes on storage arrays. iSCSI SANs often have one of two objectives:
Organizations move disparate storage resources from servers around their network to central locations, often in data centers; this allows for more efficiency in the allocation of storage. In a SAN environment, a server can be allocated a new disk volume without any change to hardware or cabling.
Organizations mirror storage resources from one data center to a remote data center, which can serve as a hot standby in the event of a prolonged outage. In particular, iSCSI SANs allow entire disk arrays to be migrated across a WAN with minimal configuration changes, in effect making storage “routable” in the same manner as network traffic.
An initiator functions as an iSCSI client. An initiator typically serves the same purpose to a computer as a SCSI bus adapter would, except that instead of physically cabling SCSI devices (like hard drives and tape changers), an iSCSI initiator sends SCSI commands over an IP network. An initiator falls into two broad types:
A software initiator uses code to implement iSCSI. Typically, this happens in a kernel-resident device driver that uses the existing NIC and network stack to emulate SCSI devices for a computer by speaking the iSCSI protocol. Software initiators are available for most mainstream operating systems, and this type is the most common mode of deploying iSCSI on computers.
A hardware initiator uses dedicated hardware, typically in combination with software (firmware) running on that hardware, to implement iSCSI. A hardware initiator mitigates the overhead of iSCSI and TCP processing and Ethernet interrupts, and therefore may improve the performance of servers that use iSCSI.
iSCSI refers to a storage resource located on an iSCSI server (more generally, one of potentially many instances of iSCSI running on that server) as a “target”. An iSCSI target usually represents hard disk storage. As with initiators, software to provide an iSCSI target is available for most mainstream operating systems.
Common deployment scenarios for an iSCSI target include:
In a data center or enterprise environment, an iSCSI target often resides in a large storage array, such as a NetApp filer or an EMC Corporation NS-series computer appliance. A storage array usually provides distinct iSCSI targets for numerous clients.
In a smaller or more specialized setting, mainstream server operating systems (like Linux, Solaris or Windows Server 2008) and some specific-purpose operating systems (like StarWind iSCSI SAN, FreeNAS, iStorage Server, OpenFiler or FreeSiOS) can provide iSCSI target’s functionality.
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