A lot can happen in a couple of years. Two years ago, storage salespeople's unofficial modus operandi was to ignore storage area network (SAN) buyers that didn't have at least $250,000 to spend. (See "SAN Vendors Cater to Frugal Crowd"). Now, a new Fibre Channel (FC) switch from QLogic, the SANbox 5200, has a street price of under $500/port.
The SANbox 5200 is a 20-port switch, 16 of which run at 2Gb/s, the other four at 10Gb/s to join multiple 5200s. Up to four 5200s can be connected via the 10Gb/s inter-switch links (ISLs), for a total of 64 useable ports. In contrast, to combine multiple Brocade switches, for example, you have to trunk multiple ports together. This helps prevent oversubscription--when hosts require more bandwidth than a port can provide--but wastes ports and requires additional software licenses.
But the 5200 does have its limits, says Frank Berry, QLogic vice president of marketing; for example, it doesn't feature redundant power supplies. "For high-end applications, you still need a high-end switch." Its silicon, however, requires less power and cooling than competitive chips, translating into better reliability. Other knocks against the 5200 include market penetration. The only major system vendor to resell QLogic's switch equipment is Sun Microsystems.
Still, the SANbox 5200 could help history repeat itself, says Tam Dell'Oro, founder of The Dell'Oro Group, Redwood City, CA, an analyst firm that tracks the Ethernet market. In the early 1990s, with the Ethernet market characterized by a few vendors that made large, high-function devices, 3Com's introduction of low-cost, low-function Ethernet switches, "allowed the market to really take off," she says. Between 1991 and 1995, the number of low-cost switch ports shipped went from 1.6 million to 30 million, and grew from 44% to 73% of the market. "The same pattern appears to be happening in storage networking."