Cisco poised to demo 8 Gbps blades for Fibre Channel directors

Cisco will demonstrate 8 Gbps cards for its Fibre Channel directors next week at EMC World. They won't be available for months, but Cisco is taking a more leisurely approach to the 8 Gbps market than competitor Brocade, saying the 8 Gbit market has yet to develop.

Cisco Systems Inc. will demonstrate 8 Gbps blades for its Fibre Channel directors at EMC World next week and anticipates they will be available in the fourth quarter.

Cisco will offer cards that support 8 Gbps for its MDS 9513, MDS 9509 and MDS 9506 chassis, with Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) blades to follow. Although Cisco has been at the FCoE forefront, it trails rival Brocade Communications in 8 Gbps products. Brocade began shipping DCX Backbone and 4800 directors with 8 Gbps in January.

Deepak Munjal, Cisco's manager of data center marketing, said he expects Cisco's OEM storage system partners to begin shipping the 8 Gbps cards by year's end. That means that Brocade would have an advantage of close to a year selling 8 Gbps directors through the major storage vendors.

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According to Munjal, Cisco's advantage is that it has used the same architecture for its MDS directors since it launched the products in 2002. The 8 Gbps cards will have the same density as the company's current 4 Gbps cards, supporting up to 48 ports per card and 528 ports for the MDS 9513, 336 ports for the MDS 9509 and 192 ports for the MDS 9506. He said that customers won't have to upgrade the entire box, only the line cards.

"Unlike our competitors who come out with a new box every two years or so, the MDS has been about creating an architecture that allows it to scale at 1 Gbit to 8 Gbit, and even 16 Gbit going forward; 8 gig is just a line card. We're not showing off a new chassis, new supervisor engines or anything like that," Munjal said

While Brocade, Emulex and QLogic, have raced to get 8 Gbps equipment out the door, Cisco has taken a more measured approach. Munjal said he doesn't expect storage vendors to support 8 Gbps in their disk arrays until next year.

We expect the ramp for 8 Gbit to be 2009. We don't see our customers immediately needing to upgrade because of bandwidth.
Deepak Munjal
manager of data center marketingCisco Systems
"Eight gigabit is early to us. We expect the ramp to be 2009. Our customers want to be able to upgrade, but we don't see them immediately needing to upgrade because of bandwidth," Munjal said.

At least one Cisco MDS director customer agrees with that assessment. Jim Lowder, vice president of technology at OhioHealth, replaced McData directors with four MDS 9509s last year. Lowder said that while 4 Gbps performance is still good enough for his storage network, which services a group of healthcare organizations, he does intend to upgrade eventually. "Eight gigabit is something we're looking at," he said.

Analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group said the timing of support for 8 Gbps among storage array vendors will determine if Cisco is late or not. "Near term in the evolving 8 Gbit Fibre Channel race, Brocade has to be the sure bet for now, given that Cisco has spotted them almost a year lead with product and OEM announcements," he said. "However, one of the major 8 Gbit Fibre Channel drivers is still missing and that is a native 8 Gbit storage port on a storage system. Once that becomes available, then the market really opens up."

Munjal said Cisco plans to have FCoE cards for its directors next year. Cisco's Nexus 500 converged platform switches support FCoE, but they will be used mostly for server connectivity through the end of 2009, with FCoE on storage arrays expected to ramp in volume in 2010.

Cisco also plans 8 Gbps for its MDS 9100 fabric switch platform next year. Brocade launched its 8 Gbps fabric switches last week, and they are available through IBM.

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