Storage Switches Get Powered for Efficiency

Companies convert offerings to decrease costs, consolidate ports.

As SANs mature from a high-end niche into a mainstream technology, vendors are converting switches powering them into application appliances to lower management costs and improve efficiencies.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc., McData Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. are readying offerings that hinge on the premise that running management functions such as backup, provisioning, replication and virtualization on storage area network switches can save money, create more efficient architectures and consolidate ports.

By residing on the network, instead of on servers or the storage hardware itself, fewer copies of management software are needed, and each can have a direct path to its data. Users can eliminate the extra servers that management software normally requires and can deal with fewer partners for support.

Brocade this week will announce SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform, said Tom Buiocchi, vice president of product management. The 16-port switch, set to start shipping by years end, interoperates with Brocade switches and can run several management functions simultaneously. Each port has its own application-specific integrated circuit for scalability, and each can run Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet, said Buiocchi, in San Jose, Calif.

Brocade will not sell it directly to users, officials said.

Despite the SilkWorm platforms edge-switch roots, "itll be a different price point," Buiocchi said. "You wouldnt want to build your whole SAN on this thing." But each partner will name and price its version, he said.

While its efficient and cost-effective, having storage rely on fewer, more centralized management points results in less redundancy for high availability and greater chances of data bottlenecks.

As a result, concerns are being raised over different categories and generations of storage linking to the same appliance. "Im not interested in that at all," said Andy Porter, senior engineer at St. Vincent Hospital, in Indianapolis. "Itd be really difficult. Its a noble cause, but its not a very realistic approach." Porter has two 5.8-terabyte SANs from Xiotech Corp., with Brocades 2800- and 12000-series switches.

Still, Porter said he appreciates the effort. "Its great that theyre thinking together and doing those things," he said.

Brocades SilkWorm

  • OEMs can implement software as in-band or out-of-band
  • First user shipments by HP due in fourth quarter
  • Based on November 2002 acquisition of Rhapsody Networks Inc.
McData, which focuses on high-end SAN switches, is earlier than Brocade in the network-based software process. The company is interested in acquiring or jointly developing application adapters with other companies, said Brandon Hoff, senior manager of advanced development. So far, the company is looking at five candidates, four of which are startups, said Hoff, in Broomfield, Colo.

Separately, McData is preparing switch-based authentication and other security updates for its SANtegrity line for a launch in the second half of the year, with partners Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks Ltd., Hoff said.

For its part, Cisco, which is entering the SAN switch market, so far has partnerships with Hitachi Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM. The San Jose company is working on plans for a midyear release of an application-centric version of its MDS, or Multilayer DataCenter Switch, series.

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