The Xen Way to iSCSI Virtualization

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Virtualization  isn’t only about supporting a virtualized operating system. Storage and security are key support sectors in any enterprise IT environment, real or virtual.

XenSource, the commercial vendor behind the open source Xen project, has this crazy quilt of complexity in mind with its latest product release called XenEnterprise 3.2.

Is it a Xen way for businesses to advance storage needs using iSCSI  virtualization? The company thinks so with its support for iSCSI storage in this release. It’s also nudging XenEnterprise on the path toward integration with Network Access Control (NAC), the policy-driven framework that decides who gets access to what on an enterprise network.

“We’re seeing tremendous interest in iSCSI, particularly in the mid-market where people are very keen to leverage existing infrastructure and not have to go the heavyweight route,” XenSource CTO Simon Crosby said.

XenEnterprise is a commercial product offering based on the latest Xen 3.04 open source hypervisor. An iSCSI Storage Area Network (SAN), meanwhile, uses the SCSI  protocol over a regular TCP/IP network connection. The technology enables any node on an IP network to use a remote storage server as though it were a local drive.

Generally speaking, an iSCSI IP storage network is considered less complex and not as expensive to implement or maintain than the more traditional Fibre Channel,  , which, until the past few years, dominated all large SAN deployments.

The iSCSI market is vast, with an array of storage vendors offering their own iSCSI initiators to enable access to the SAN. XenSource, for its part, has named storage vendor NetApp as its vendor buddy in a similar arrangement, although XenSource is expected to announce more iSCSI-related announcements in the coming weeks.

Though XenEnterprise 3.2’s new feature is support for iSCSI, that’s not all it does;

“We support Fibre Channel now and its bundled into the product but we don’t do anything specific to manage the SAN storage,” Crosby said.

XenSource has also been in discussion with Cisco’s Topspin division about support for the InfiniBand  interconnect, the channel-based data transfer system gaining in popularity as well.

Crosby also said XenSource is in discussions with network equipment vendors for supporting Network Access Control (NAC) type interoperability with the XenEnterprise virtual environment. In version 3.2 XenSource has added VLAN  trunking, which could be used to manually provide access control.

“The automated NAC type policy control is not in this product but it is an area of increasing interest to us,” Crosby said. “We’re very actively working on the addition of various security capabilities to the XenEnterprise stack that will allow us to implement all of the modern security features that are emerging.”

NAC interoperability will not necessarily come in the form of a new dashboard control in XenEnterprise.

“The discussion there for us are with the major network equipment vendors that have already developed the NAC and NAP capabilities so that we can simply add that capability into our stack and allow them to manage it,” Crosby said. “What we want to is expose capabilities to manage the access control rather than saying here’s how you mange it though out user interface.”

XenEnterprise 3.2 follows the first XenEnterprise release by almost four months.

“We’re moving the Xen feature set forward quite significantly as well as advancing our storage management capabilities,” Crosby said. “Originally though it would just be a service pack for our first product but it has turned into more of a major release.”

Article appeared originally on

Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.

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