Cisco Enters SAN Switching Market

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Cisco today announced a comprehensive family of multilayer intelligent storage switches, which deliver a number of storage networking innovations to customers and will drive SAN consolidation, increase data availability, and allow customers to more efficiently manage their storage resources.

The introduction of the Cisco MDS (Multilayer DataCenter Switch) 9000 Family represents Cisco’s entry into the large, high-growth SAN switching market, which, according to market research firm Gartner Group is expected to grow from approximately $1.2 billion in 2002 to $4.3 billion in 2006.

The Cisco MDS 9000 Family consists of the Cisco MDS 9500 Series of Multilayer Directors and the Cisco MDS 9216 Multilayer Fabric Switch. The multilayer intelligence these products offer include:

  • Multiprotocol Support: Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and FCIP
  • Intelligent Network Services: Services such as traffic
    management, security and integrated diagnostics that introduce
    similar levels of network scalability and resiliency to
    storage networking that Cisco introduced to IP networking.
  • Intelligent Storage Services: Open platform for hosting
    third-party storage applications such as network-based
  • Unified Storage Management: Embedded fabric management and
    open application platform interface (API) for integration with
    leading SAN management and network system management

According to Cisco, these innovations are essential to increase SAN scalability and allow customers to realize significant financial and operational benefits.

Communications giant Sprint is one of several companies participating in testing the MDS 9000. Cisco says that not only is Sprint evaluating the switches for deployment within its own internal IT infrastructure, it will also evaluate the possibility of deploying the MDS 9000 as the foundation of its revenue-generating managed storage services offering to its enterprise customers.

“As a way to better meet the storage management requirements of our internal users and our customers, Sprint shares Cisco’s vision for the need to incorporate more intelligent services into storage networks that will make them easier to scale, more efficient to manage, and less costly to own,” said Charles Warren, director of Sprint’s Service Technologies Lab, the company’s testing organization for both internal and customer-facing IT infrastructures. “We will run the Cisco MDS 9000 through a demanding set of testing criteria to ensure it meets our performance requirements but, more importantly, can deliver on the value that its intelligent networking and storage services are intended to provide.”

The MDS 9500 Series is fully modular and will be available in six, nine, and 13-slot versions, the Cisco MDS 9506, 9509, and the 9513 respectively. The MDS 9216 is the industry’s first modular fabric switch, with one fixed slot containing16-ports of 1 or 2Gbps Fibre Channel and one expansion slot for additional ports. The three Cisco MDS 9000 Modules are the 16- and 32-port 1 or 2-Gbps Fibre Channel modules and an 8-port IP storage module supporting any combination of iSCSI and FCIP protocols.

With 1.44 terabits per second of internal system bandwidth, the Cisco MDS 9000 Family offers the industry’s highest performance in both the director and fabric classes of storage networking switches. It supports up to 256 ports per switch and up to 768 ports per rack, the industry’s highest per-chassis and per-rack port density. Additionally, the Cisco MDS 9000 Family improves SAN scalability through support for Virtual SANs (VSANs), which create secured, isolated environments each with its own fabric services within a single physical fabric.

According to Cisco, the MDS 9000 Family provides investment protection through a common architectural framework in the chassis and shared modules across both the director-class and fabric switches. This is designed to offer a smooth growth path for upgrades and allow customers to rely on common spare parts, further reducing costs.

Addressing security, The MDS 9000 Family supports traditional Fibre Channel security features such as hardware-enforced zoning and LUN masking, but adds to this with support for the industry’s most comprehensive set of security services including RADIUS server authentication, SNMPv3, role-based access control and access control lists, Secure Shell, Secure File Transfer Protocol, and VSANs. Cisco is also driving new standards for SAN security, such as authoring the draft standard for FC-SP, a framework for securing storage network infrastructures.

For management, each MDS 9000 Family switch will ship with Cisco Fabric Manager, a Java-based centralized management tool that supports fabric-wide and switch-level management features including topology discovery, fabric configuration and verification, monitoring, and fault resolution. It also includes a Cisco IOS-like CLI and an open API to help customers achieve a unified management infrastructure. Cisco believes that these features will provide customers productivity improvements, faster problem resolution, and reduced service costs.

“Cisco is entering the SAN switch market with a very feature rich product,” said Eric Sheppard, senior analyst with IDC. “End-users of SAN equipment such as the Cisco MDS 9000 will not only benefit from high internal throughput and multi-protocol support, over time they will also benefit from the product’s ability to facilitate efficient management of SAN resources.”

In conjunction with news of the MDS 9000, Cisco also announced a broad-based initiative to promote interoperability testing and cross-product qualification with industry partners that span all major categories within the storage industry. The goal of these collaborative efforts is to ensure solution-level interoperability for the MDS 9000 Family with storage products in multiple categories including host bus adapters, storage arrays, tape libraries, storage management applications, replication services, and back-up software.

Specifically, Cisco says, it has begun working with Adaptec Inc., ADIC, BMC Software, EMC Corporation, Emulex Corporation, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM Tivoli, JNI Corporation, Netreon Inc., QLogic Corporation, StorageNetworks, Inc., and VERITAS Software.

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