Switch Adds Capacity on the Fly

McData's Sphereon 4500 blends easy management, high density.

McData Corp.s Sphereon 4500 Fabric Switch Fibre Channel switch blends manageability and high port density into a powerful package that is impressive enough to earn eWeek Labs Analysts Choice distinction.

Taking up a mere 1U (1.75 inches) of rack space, the Sphereon 4500 boasts 24 2GB Fibre Channel ports and new open-trunking capabilities that enable network managers to add ISLs (Inter-Switch Links)—network links that pass traffic from switch to switch—on the fly.

At $31,000 for a fully populated switch, its also reasonably priced. The Sphereon 4500 provided impressive flexibility and ease of use in eWeek Labs tests. Our testbed consisted of twin Sphereon 4500 switches, with the Spirent Communications Inc. SmartBits 6000B chassis pushing traffic through both switches. The Sphereon 4500s we tested came with eight ports enabled on each switch.

The Sphereon 4500 includes a feature McData calls FlexPort, which is the ability to unlock ports on demand without interrupting traffic. Using the Sphereon 4500 Fabric Switchs management utilities, we were able to add a software key to unlock the other 16 ports on our switches while traffic continued to run through them. Thanks to this capability, IT managers can buy the Sphereon 4500 with eight ports enabled initially, then add ports (in eight-port increments) to suit their needs.

The Sphereon switch also has the ability to revise firmware on the fly. When we upgraded the firmware of our switches, traffic did not degrade while applying the revisions.

This is an important feature because it allows IT managers to maintain switches without being forced to temporarily bring down SANs (storage area networks). Considering that the Sphereon 4500 is an entry- to midlevel switch, we were surprised that it includes this degree of functionality.

In fact, once we added the new ISL ports on our Sphereon 4500 switches, they were smart enough to load balance excess traffic from other, oversubscribed ISL ports onto the newly created ISL. Using this feature, an IT manager can easily compensate for bandwidth bottlenecks between switches by simply dedicating more ports.

The hardware redundancy of the Sphereon 4500 Fabric Switch is also top-notch. We could easily pull and reinsert power supplies without causing a disruption.

The Sphereon 4500 is easy to set up, and the GUI is easy to navigate.

McDatas free management tool, SANpilot, is adequate for managing a switch, but larger enterprises with a large variety of SAN equipment should use a more comprehensive management tool, such as McDatas SANavigator, for their management chores (see SANavigator Corrals SAN Equipment).

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at henry_baltazar@ziffdavis.com.