Home | Reviews | Comparing iSCSI Targets – Microsoft, StarWind, iSCSI Cake and Kernsafe – Part I

Comparing iSCSI Targets – Microsoft, StarWind, iSCSI Cake and Kernsafe – Part I

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This week, Microsoft released their iSCSI Target software for general availability.  Previously this had only been available for installations with Windows Storage Server via OEMs.  Now anyone with Windows 2008 R2 can install and use the software without restrictions.  However, there are already a number of other iSCSI target software offerings already on the market, most notably from StarWind, iSCSI Cake and Kernsafe, so how does the Microsoft offering stack up?  In this series I’ll look at each product and compare features and functionality, starting with Microsoft.

Installation

Installation of the Microsoft Target is pretty simple; it can be downloaded here: Microsoft iSCSI Target, then follow the instructions.

Configuration

The Microsoft Target is configured through a MMC plugin that can be found under the Administrative Tools folder from the Start Menu (see screenshot 1).  As the management tool uses a vanilla MMC window, it’s rather basic in appearance but follows standard conventions of right-click options to select properties or using the Action menu item.  For instance, right-clicking on the Microsoft iSCSI Software Target displays a context menu and Properties option, leading to a two-tab dialog box.  This allows the IP and iSNS details to be specified.  In my example (screenshot 2) I’ve tied the Microsoft Target to a single IP address as all of the Target software products are deployed on the same server.  There doesn’t appear to be an option to change the listening port, which defaults to 3260.  iSNS server configuration is pretty simple, consisting of a list of either IP address or server names (screenshot 3).

Targets can be created by clicking on the iSCSI Targets tree item and selecting Action or right clicking.  The configuration wizard asks for basic details such as the target name and default security details; specifying “*” for the IQN provides open access.  In my test environment I created two targets, target0 and target1. These are shown in screenshot 4.  The properties for a target allow configuration of security/authentication, performance parameters and virtual disks.  Virtual disks use the VHD format and can be either fully provisioned or differencing.  Unfortunately thin provisioned VHDs are not supported, which is disappointing (see screenshot 5).  Once created, virtual disks are associated with a target and exported for use.  One or more LUNs can be associated with a Target (as is standard with SCSI).  These appear to the hosts as separate devices.  The benefit of having multiple LUNs to the same target is that security is performed at the target rather than LUN level.  Therefore access to one or more devices can be performed once on the Target.  Screenshot 6 shows the two targets configured and idle (no connected hosts), with screenshot 7 showing a single target login.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to find the logged in initator for a target although this may be available via WMI (still under investigation).

Snapshots

A point in time (PIT) copy of a LUN can be created using snapshots.  Each snapshot represents a copy of the LUN at the time the snapshot was taken and can be used to return the LUN to a previous state.  Alternatively the snapshot can be exported via another target or mounted to the iSCSI Target host itself.  Either way, these LUNs are read-only copies and can’t be modified.  Screenshots 8 and 9 show the snapshot list and a schedule to create a daily snapshot of Virtual Disk 0.

Summary

The Microsoft iSCSI Target offers basic functionality with the ability to add snapshots.  Not being able to use thin provisioned VHDs is disappointing, however the underlying filesystem could be placed on thinly provisioned disks, but that may defeat the point of presenting storage using the iSCSI Target.  Of course the iSCSI Target is free and free is (almost) always good.

Next post: StarWind iSCSI Target

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • http://www.starwindsoftware.com Anton Kolomyeytsev

    Good one! If you’d need any kind of assistance with StarWind software please let us know. We’d be happy to help.

    Anton

    P.S. Do you plan to have any performance test results published and features matrix compare? Or just plain install screenshots?

    • http://www.brookend.com Chris Evans

      Anton

      Yes, I’ll be doing feature and performance comparisons, however I can only do comparisons with more than one review :-)

      The first feature/performance comparison will be posted on the next post comparing against StarWind.

      Chris

  • http://www.visionsolutions.com/Products/DT-Flex.aspx Steve Marfisi

    We also follow with interest the free release of MSFT’s iSCSI target, having worked with that software team since the days of WinTarget. Our own Windows-based iSCSI target – Flex Storage Server – is especially tweaked for iSCSI boot clients. We also invite comparisons, and assistance, if a comparison is of any interest.

    Steve

    • http://www.brookend.com Chris Evans

      Steve

      Happy to add your product for eval too. Please can you forward a link to the download & NFR licence if possible.

      Cheers
      Chris

  • http://www.starwindsoftware.com Anton Kolomyeytsev

    Chris,

    excellent! Hope you’ve managed to extract wire speed from both. Tiny hint: please publish configuration settings.

    Thank you!

    Anton

  • http://www.starwindsoftware.com Anton Kolomyeytsev

    Steve,

    what do you mean under “especially tweaked for iSCSI boot clients”?

    Thanks!

    Anton

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