Cisco VSANs win standardization

Playing to its strengths, Cisco is using the standards process to push its technology forward.

SAN consolidation is a major trend these days, and Cisco Systems Inc. has just won a golden ticket to the party.

The T11 committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards has selected Cisco's Virtual SAN (VSAN) technology for approval by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) as the industry standard for deploying virtual fabrics, defined as the ability to segment a single, physical SAN fabric into many logical, completely independent SANs.

The desire to keep SANs logically separate, while still physically connected, is being driven by offsite disaster recovery, storage consolidation and the need to better share existing resources. Users cite the ability to set up preproduction tests on the same SAN that hosts production applications as a key reason to implement VSANs.

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Cisco modeled its VSAN approach after its virtual LAN (VLAN) technology, which allows different devices on different LAN segments to communicate with one another as if they are on the same physical segment. Tom Edsall, vice president and general manager of the storage and switching technologies group at Cisco, said VSANs parallel Cisco's VLAN technology, which became the data networking industry standard.

Interestingly, Cisco had no competition for the VSAN standard, which took a year to reach approval, despite its competitors offering similar functionality. Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s logical SAN technology provides virtual SAN consolidation and McData Corp.'s DS10000 directors allow users to segregate functions within a SAN using hard partitioning.

Are Cisco's competitors sleeping?

History shows that Cisco knows how to play the standards game to its advantage, and it has clearly won this round. However, John Webster, senior analyst with Data Mobility Group, points out that the bigger prizes are still to come. Fabric routing, which is the ability to route between smaller SANs and Fabric Aware Interface Standard (FAIS), are two standards being developed by T11.5 task group. FAIS is a multi-vendor initiative that aims to standardize the interface between storage applications and network devices. "Cisco gets some kudos for its VSAN standard, but the basics of FAIS are coming from Brocade," Webster said. He noted that FAIS could be crucial to the future of the storage market if network-based storage services become mainstream.

Claudio DeSanti, a technical leader in Cisco's storage technology group and vice-chair of the T11 Technical Committee, said that Cisco is participating in the development of FAIS, too. "It is a much more ambitious proposal, and therefore takes more time to reach a common vision, but we are starting to move in the right direction," he said. "There's a good chance the FAIS API will be ready next June."

No matter how many participants each company has within the committee, each vendor only receives one vote, Claudio said. "But the more people, the more questions -- if you ask 10 questions rather than one question it makes a difference." Cisco is renowned for showing up at standards bodies with half the company in tow.

After seven quarters in the storage market, Cisco has approximately 14% market share, according to Steve Berg, analyst at Punk, Ziegel & Co. Last week, Cisco posted first-quarter storage sales of $39.8 million, compared with an estimated $100 million for McData and $153 million for Brocade.

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