EMC, Cisco in switch deal

EMC will resell Cisco storage switches and work with Cisco to define standard APIs for an intelligent switch for submission to the SNIA.

EMC Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. have announced a formal agreement in which EMC will resell the Cisco MDS 9000 line of multi-protocol storage switches. The switches will be sold under the Connectrix brand by EMC, and the switches will be manageable through the firm's ControlCenter software. Manageability for some functions will be phased in over time.

With the agreement, Cisco now has reseller agreements with three major vendors: IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and EMC. According to Soni Jiandani, vice president of marketing for Cisco's storage technology group, the agreement goes beyond the reseller agreements with IBM and HP. Cisco and EMC will work together to define a standard application programming interface (API) for an intelligent switch, and then submit that definition to the Storage Networking Industry Association as a proposed standard method by which third-party storage applications can run on intelligent storage switches.

"This is the first time that a networking company and a storage company have merged to work together," says Luca Cafiero, senior vice president and general manager for switching, voice and storage at Cisco.

Jiandani says that Cisco will also work toward submitting the company's virtual storage area network (SAN), security and network management technologies to SNIA for adoption as open standards.

EMC is also committed to integrating its applications with Brocade's Rhapsody platform. EMC officials indicated that Brocade has also indicated some interest in seeing a standard API, but it remains to be seen whether a consensus will develop around the Cisco-EMC approach. EMC, for its part, seems to be trying to avoid developing multiple versions of the same applications for different platforms.

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst, Enterprise Storage Group Inc., Milford, Mass., said this deal was "just a matter of time."

"While they both did a lot of posturing, they really do need each other. They are clearly birds of a feather, culturally," Duplessie said. "I think the deal is going to be a catalyst for the whole market because if nothing else, these two guys know how to generate buzz and sell stuff, and that will create cottage opportunities all around them, for things like software."

He added that Cisco needs EMC a lot more than EMC needs Cisco, but at the same token, Cisco can help hunt down a lot of short term revenue opportunities, and that's exactly what EMC needs. "It's going to be interesting, if nothing else."

One EMC application targeted for intelligent switches is PowerPath. Version 4.0, just announced this week, combines its previous path management functions with volume management. By putting those features together in the network, data migration and availability could become significantly easier to manage, as well as easier to deploy across heterogeneous storage. However, a network version for any switch platform is a year or more away, according to EMC officials.

Dave Goulden, EMC's executive vice president of global marketing and new business development, says the agreement came in response to clear signals from customers that they want an integrated EMC-Cisco SAN as one of their options. Consequently, EMC will release a certification matrix for the combo in May and begin shipping sometime during the second quarter. EMC will support combinations of the MDS line with its other Connectrix options (Brocade and McData switches) as they qualify them for interoperability.

EMC will also progressively integrate management of MDS switches into ControlCenter. Initially, an MDS switch will show up as any other switch, but users will need to use Cisco's tools to configure and manage zoning and more advanced functions, like setting up virtual SANs. Ultimately, though, EMC is committed to giving users the option of doing those functions within ControlCenter.

One of EMC's major motivations for striking the agreement was the MDS' multi-protocol capability, specifically its ability to support both iSCSI and FCIP. While EMC has a stated goal of supporting iSCSI within both Clariion and Symmetrix, currently it offers that option on neither line. So users would be able to connect hosts to MDS via iSCSI and then bridge to their EMC storage arrays via Fibre Channel through the MDS switch. Similarly, they could use the Cisco switch to connect SANs via FCIP over the wide area.

EMC officials say they have gotten a lot of interest in Cisco switches from users. Cafiero says that Cisco currently has about 40 customers but expects the agreement with EMC to significantly increase sales.

Mark Schlack is Storage Magazine's Editor-in-Chief.

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