For a long time I wanted to get my hands on a true iSCSI hardware target. Without a target, the only thing you can do is to learn about iSCSI in a theoretical manner.

iSCSI seems to be one of these disrupting technologies. The goal is simple: reinventing SANs. Todays’s SAN is a nightmare to manage: storage arrays, fiber switches, the confusing maze of fragile orange cables, HBAs cost a lot of money. More money would be probably spent on administrator training, or probably on the “tie & suit” that comes with a serious $300,000 storage array.

iSCSI aims to simplify all that. Of course, to get decent performance you need first a solid Ethernet infrastructure. But here is a subtle difference. There are many administrators that know how to operate a Cisco router. There are not so many that can know to work with fiber switches. So, in the end, a storage network built on top of iSCSI might be cheaper, way cheaper than a traditional SAN.

But things are not that simple. iSCSI might lose some of its disruptive energy since the price of a fibre-based solution seems to go down. Second, FC is well ahead with its 2 Gb (and soon 4 Gb) vs. the current 1 Gb max limit on iSCSI. Additionally, SAN is pretty much a mature technology while iSCSI just took off. Still, iSCSI might maintain its edge in low/mid market, so in the end things are not that clear. What do you think?

Anyway, back to my original wish – I found recently that is very easy to play with iSCSI. You don’t need specialized hardware after all. All you need is:
1) Two machines running Windows Server 2003 (yes, there is a free 180-day evaluation version here).
2) Download and install the Microsoft iSCSI initiator from the Microsoft web site on machine A.
3) Then, on machine B, download and install a software-emulated iSCSI target, for example WinTarget from String Bean Software. 
4) Now, open the “Microsoft iSCSI initiator” UI on machine A. Go to the “Initiator settings” and copy the IQN node name.
5) On machine B, open the WinTarget console and create a new WinTarget disk. Paste the IQN node name obtained above (I presume you are using Terminal Server, correct?)
6) Now, go back to machine A, open the Disk Management UI and do rescan disks. You will see the new disk coming in the system. Done!