Sporting a high-port-density chassis and supporting the 2G-bps Fibre Channel protocol, QLogic Corp.s SANbox 2 switch is a suitable choice for IT managers looking for a midrange Fibre Channel SAN switch.
SANbox 2 is one of the first storage area network switches eWeek Labs has seen that supports the 2G-bps Fibre Channel protocol, but it likely wont be the last. Virtually all storage vendors are expected to upgrade to the standard within a year.
The SANbox 2 switch puts 16 ports in a 1.75-inch unit and should work seamlessly with older SANs. However, it wont boost the performance of older Fibre Channel gear, and upgrading to 2G-bps technology isnt cheap—doing so could easily cost millions of dollars for a large SAN setup. Still, many enterprises that need to squeeze maximum performance from their applications will likely discover they cant afford not to upgrade.
It is also important to note that 2G-bps Fibre Channel SANs always default to the lowest speed supported in a SAN. For this reason, IT managers must replace all Fibre Channel equipment in their data path to take advantage of the new technology. HBAs (host bus adapters), switches, RAID controllers and even hard drives must be replaced to tap the 2G-bps speed potential.
SANbox 2 switches became available to distributors in late June; they are priced at $15,750. This is comparable to what rivals charge. SANbox 2 is not quite as dense as McData Corp.s ES-3032 Fabric Switch, which has 32 ports in a 2.075-inch chassis.
SANbox 2 uses SFP (Small Form-factor Pluggable) transceivers—as opposed to the Gigabit Interface Converter connections used in most Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet switches. The change to SFP is good news in the long run because it allows manufacturers to make denser switches, but this change will require major wiring upgrades. For example, the connectors required for the new switches arent compatible with the connectors that are common today.
SANbox 2 is one of the first 2G-bps switches to include auto-negotiation capabilities, the automatic detection of the speed at which HBAs and other devices are running.
In tests, we could easily plug in 1G-bps and 2G-bps Fibre Channel HBAs from QLogic and Emulex Corp. with no major problems. This means HBA-to-switch interoperability wont be a big issue at most sites.
We were also pleased to see that our 2G-bps Hitachi Data Systems Corp. RAID unit was also easily able to auto-negotiate with the SANbox 2 switch.
Initially, we thought we had a problem auto-detecting 2G-bps HBAs, but that problem occurred because we had the wrong firmware revision flashed onto our test switch.
The SANbox 2s management utility, called SANsurfer 2, is a simple Java-based tool that is fairly easy to navigate. Using the faceplate display, we could easily tell the speeds and modes at which each port tool was running, and we could also check for hardware-specific problems such as high temperature or a faulty power supply.
Zone configuration was fairly simple using SANbox 2s SANsurfer 2 Java-based management tool. We put servers and storage units into zones with simple drag-and-drop operations.