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McData's Sphereon 4500 and SANpilot are in the groove

McData announced the Sphereon 4500 Fibre Channel fabric switch and SANpilot embedded software management tool. A detailed specification sheet will be published in the ES/OL database in the near future.

The Sphereon 4500 is a 2G-bit/sec. 8- to 24-port fabric switch using small form factor pluggable ports in a 1U enclosure. The Sphereon 4500 is positioned as an entry-level product offering complementing the rest of McData's 2G-bit/sec. product family, namely the 16- to 32-port Sphereon 3232 fabric switch, 64-port Intrepid 6064 and the new 140-port Intrepid 6140 director. The Sphereon 4500 features new McData-designed silicon where the entire 24-port switch functionality is resident on a single chip.

SANpilot is a GUI-based fabric switch management tool with a Web browser interface. It is embedded on all McData fabric switch and director products and is designed to replace McData's embedded Web server CLI-based management software. It is a simple, easy-to-use entry-level management tool with basic configuration management (including zoning), performance monitoring, health monitoring, fault isolation and on-line diagnostics. SANpilot is positioned as an entry-level SAN management tool, designed for six or fewer switch configurations. For more sophisticated SAN configurations, McData offers the Enterprise Fabric Connectivity Manager (EFCM) software and, for heterogeneous, end-to-end (i.e., HBA-network-switch) management and lifecycle management capability,

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McData offers SANavigator management software.

The following are key features of the Sphereon 4500:

  • 8 to 24 hot-swappable Small Form Factor Pluggable (SFP) short wave or long wave universal ports (G_Ports with FL_Port, F_Port, or E_Port functionality)
  • HOTCAT technology for online, non-disruptive code load and activation
  • Flexport Technology, where additional ports can be added non-disruptively in 8-port increments using hot-swappable 8-port port cards(1)
  • 2G-bit/sec. non-blocking architecture
  • Automatic sensing and speed matching between 1- and 2G-bit/sec. on a port-by-port basis
  • 1U form factor
  • Redundant, hot-swappable fans
  • Redundant, hot-swappable power supplies
  • FC_AL support. The Sphereon does not support public-to-private loop bridging
  • 12 buffer credits per port, allowing for a maximum distance of 10 kilometers at 2G-bit/sec. and 24 kilometers at 1G-bit/sec.
  • Software zoning on a WWN basis
  • FSPF routing
  • FC-SW-2 protocol
  • In-band or Ethernet management
  • Call home, e-mail or pager notification
  • In-order frame delivery
  • SANpilot embedded GUI-based, web-based fabric management software, available at no extra charge with the purchase of a switch
  • Enterprise Fabric Connectivity Manager (EFCM) management software
  • SANavigator heterogeneous SAN management software
  • Fully compatible with older McData products

Evaluator Group comments:

The Sphereon 4500 is a product worth looking at. Its flexible scalability and compact design, combined with standard features like fully redundant hot-swappable power and cooling, non-disruptive code loads, and embedded web-based GUI management software is a combination that is hard to beat. The Sphereon 4500 is also very attractively priced, especially given the fact that management software is included in the price.

The Sphereon 4500 has a very attractive footprint at all capacity points. The 8- and 16-port 1U configuration is fully competitive with other similarly sized fabric switches on the market (only QLogic's SANbox 8-port switch beats it with its 1U half-rack design). Where the Sphereon really distinguishes itself is in larger configurations (16+ ports), where other competitors would need to offer a dual switch configuration with twice the footprint, higher costs, and fewer useable ports than the Sphereon 4500.

Besides improving footprint, the Sphereon's single chip design inherently increases reliability (i.e., fewer parts = higher reliability), requires less power and cooling and lowers the overall cost of the solution. Although the Sphereon's single chip design is a single point of failure, its inherently more reliable design, redundant power and cooling, 8-port granularity of service helps allay concerns about availability compared to dual switch configurations, and should be an attractive solution for entry-level to midrange SAN customers who are willing to tradeoff some redundancy for better cost and footprint.

Users should be aware that the Sphereon 4500 is designed to support local or campus-wide SAN configurations up to 10 kilometers at 2G-bit/sec. bandwidths, or 24 kilometers at 1G-bit/sec. bandwidths. Users should also be aware that the Sphereon 4500 does not support public-to-private loop (FC_AL) bridging for connectivity to some legacy configurations. With the rapid adoption of fabric switch technology, we do believe there is a significant demand for this feature these days.

McDaTA is scheduled to introduce hardware-based zoning and open trunking in early 2003, slightly later than they had originally planned. All McData products will support these features once they're introduced. The SANpilot management tool helps make the Sphereon 4500 even more attractive for entry-level customers. GUI-based storage management tools are widely used in the industry and the fact that SANpilot is offered as a standard feature at no additional cost on the Sphereon 4500 makes the purchase decision even easier.

We applaud McData's latest product introductions and recommend it be seriously considered for any entry-level or midrange SAN application.

1. After the ports cards are installed, ports are activated via a software license key that can be downloaded and activated without affecting other active ports on the switch.

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The Evaluator Series and Evaluator Series On-Line (ES/OL) are trademarks of Evaluator Group, Inc.


This was first published in November 2002

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