Directors take on more tasks

Director differences
Despite many commonalities, each director family is best suited to particular situations:
Brocade: For organizations with a significant investment in legacy core/edge devices, the SilkWorm 24000 director and Logical SAN software will bring SAN islands under common management.

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Cisco: Because Cisco is a relative newcomer to storage networking, legacy investment isn't really a consideration. Cisco's strength is its network management and diagnostic software that leverages its leadership in IP networking. Its Virtual SAN technology permits large SANs to be managed as multiple SANs.
CNT: Some of the largest online transaction processing data centers are dedicated CNT director users. Although CNT doesn't offer the same breadth of product as other vendors, its products' scalability, throughput and availability are unrivaled.
McData: With the dominant share of the director-class market, McData views the world from the data center out. McData has an enviable reputation among large-scale enterprises, and complements it with a strong edge-switch product and multivendor management software (SANavigator).

Emerging technologies
All vendors will have 4Gb ports available in the second half of this year. The good news is that 4Gb technology is backward-compatible with both 2Gb and 1Gb technology. Thus, inclusion in the fabric will be nondisruptive. Moreover, 4Gb modules can co-exist in director-class frames along with lower-speed modules. Of course, when mixed ports connect, the two modules will negotiate down to the speed of the slowest device.

The bigger buzz, however, surrounds 10Gb technology. Storage managers might logically ask whether they should invest in 4Gb now, when 10Gb may be right around the corner. The answer is "Yes," because 10Gb is a disruptive technology. That is, 10Gb ports can't connect with slower ports. For the next two to three years, 10Gb implementation will be limited to internal bandwidth to the director; indeed, some products already use it. 10Gb may also be implemented for ISLs. Where five 2Gb ports can be "trunked" currently to provide 10Gb throughput between switches, a single 10Gb ISL would obviously reduce the port consumption by 80%. But 10Gb technology may never be implemented at the port level because non-disruptive 8Gb technology may be available by 2007/2008 and 16Gb technology by 2010/2011. Some highlights from product-specific roadmaps include:

Brocade. Expect expansion of the 24000 to 256 ports, the development of a Layer 3 router blade and a fabric application blade. Brocade will also continue to enhance its fabric management software.

Cisco. Although Cisco will continue to enhance the scalability and throughput of its directors and switches, expect Cisco to continue to differentiate itself by bringing network management tools to storage based on its IP networking experience.

McData. Near term, McData will be fully occupied with the integration of CNT's product line. Expect McData to continue to enhance its position in very high-performance director applications. The company will also begin to compete more vigorously as a virtualization platform in the second half of 2005.

This was first published in June 2005

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