Cisco Enters Storage Switch Arena

Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. on Tuesday announced its long-anticipated family of storage switches.

Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. on Tuesday announced its long-anticipated family of storage switches, made official by the acquisition of Andiamo Systems Inc.

As the worlds leading networking provider for large enterprises, it was only a matter of time before Cisco attempted an onslaught against storage incumbents Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp., industry watchers have said.

"We believe that our intimacy with large enterprise customers, who are the key consumers ... will allow us to be successful," said Ammar Hanafi, vice president for business development at the San Jose, Calif., company.

Specifically, Cisco announced the Multilayer DataCenter Switch family, or MDS, which has four switch sizes, four plug-in modules and software. The familys main distinction vs. rival products is its speed—the capacity is 1.44 T-bps, compared to Brocades and McDatas 256 G-bps, Cisco officials said.

The switches are the MDS 9216, with 16 ports and expandable to 48, MDS 9506, with 128 ports, MDS 9509, with 224 ports, and MDS 9513, with 256 ports. The 06, 09, and 13 designations refer to the number of slots the switches use in a rack.

The new hardware modules include a "supervisor" card, plus 16- and 32-port switching cards. The switching cards both support 1- and 2-G-bit/second speeds. An IP card is also new, with both iSCSI, for replacing storage/server SCSI connections with SCSI commands sent over an IP network, and FCIP, which is a tunneling method for connecting geographically distributed Fibre Channel storage-area networks.

Ciscos new software will have features for backup, mirroring, replication, security and virtualization, officials said. Cisco will publish its application programming interfaces, so other vendors can write products to them, officials said.

The 9216 product will start at about $30,000, while the higher-end switches will be priced in the $2,500- to$3,000-per-port range, officials said. The products are about to begin beta testing, and will be generally available from partners before the end of the year.

Behind the scenes, Cisco could end up paying more than $2 billion for Andiamo, which Cisco first financed, and even housed on the Cisco campus, last year. But the deal may not close until 2004, officials said.

"It is definitely a shock, because if you look at the original premise, people were speculating … the natural deduction would be that Ciscos director-class product would be directed toward iSCSI," said Arun Taneja, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group Inc., regarding Ciscos Fibre Channel focus "You wouldve thought its a pure iSCSI product, and its not," except for the IP card coming out next year, he said.

Whether Cisco will ultimately displace Brocade or McData is a real, but far-off, issue. "Thats a really tough one. I wont call it out this early in the ballgame, but I wont rule it out either," said Taneja, in Milford, Mass. "Theyve demonstrated again and again that they can execute like a crazy mad dog ... but at the same time, storage is brand new to them. Their salespeople probably dont know a LUN [logical unit number] from a hole in the wall."

The MDS familys backplane speed is also impressive, but few users would really need it, Taneja said. However, there are situations in Brocades SilkWorm 12000 high-end product where throughput, known as blocking, is a problem, he said.

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