Cisco Gives SANs, IBM Mainframes a Performance Boost

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Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) today rolled out enhancements to its MDS 9000 director products and NX-OS operating system that promise to improve performance for storage area networks (SANs), WANs and IBM mainframe environments.

The upgrades include added FICON support, which Cisco sees as a growing market as IBM (NYSE: IBM) phases out ESCON, acceleration technologies for better long-distance data traffic and I/O performance, and improved security.

To speed data over very long distances — as much as 20,000 kilometers — Cisco unveiled XRC Acceleration, based on IBM’s Extended Remote Copy technology for zSeries disaster recovery. Cisco said the offering was jointly developed with IBM and designed for customers deploying IBM z/OS Global Mirror. Cisco said it eliminates the need for separate channel extension products.

For security outside the data center, Cisco TrustSec Fibre Channel Link Encryption is a hardware-based solution that the company says can be enabled on a per-port basis without any performance degradation. It allows customers to encrypt data sent outside the data center over metropolitan-area networks, such as data traveling between data centers. The technology can also be used within the data center for greater security. Both FICON and open systems data can be encrypted.

The MDS 9000 I/O Accelerator is a SAN-based intelligent fabric application that speeds data backup and disaster recovery. The IOA service can be extended to either disk or tape, over any transport protocol (FC or FCIP), regardless of the device location (directly attached, WAN, or MAN).

Cisco’s SAN Fabric Manager, meanwhile, gets an increase in the number of devices that can be managed. Each Fabric Manager node now has a capacity of 15,000 devices, and up to 10 nodes can be federated together for reporting purposes.

Good Enough to Catch Brocade?

Asked if the new features are enough to reverse recent market share losses to storage switch market leader Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD), Bob Nusbaum, Cisco’s MDS software product line manager, said he likes his company’s chances — particularly as the market shifts toward converged data center networks and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

“We are in a strong position going forward,” said Nusbaum. “I like our position and knowledge and integration.

“Don’t sell us short in the Fibre Channel space,” he added. “We are still working hard to innovate. … I am confident in out ability to recover.”

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte sees an opportunity for Cisco to gain ground on Brocade.

“With IBM phasing out ESCON, companies that have been holding on to their old McData and InRange gear are now finally going to be looking for new equipment,” said Laliberte. “While Brocade, through its acquisitions, is the leader in this space, this change will provide an opportunity for Cisco to gain market share.

“Accordingly they have announced new functionality to appeal to the mainframe buyer, including enhanced support for IBM’s XRC that will accelerate data transfer over distance, eliminating the need for a purpose-built device,” added Laliberte. “Another aspect that should be well received by the mainframe crowd is Cisco’s ability to quickly and easily migrate existing devices to the MDS. A simple six-step process is all that is required to replace legacy infrastructure with the Cisco MDS.”

Laliberte also gives Cisco high marks for other features such as encryption in flight and expanded scalability and federated reporting in the NX-OS that allow users to see up to 10 instances of NX-OS and discover adjacent Nexus and Catalyst switches. That, he said, will be important for data over IP and future FCoE installations.

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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