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Cisco Joins FC Switch Club

By the end of the year, Cisco will begin shipping the fruits of its Andiamo acquisition, the MDS 9000 series fabric switch and director products.

In the market for Fibre Channel (FC) switching equipment? By the end of the year, Cisco will begin shipping the fruits of its Andiamo acquisition, the MDS 9000 series fabric switch and director products.

Targeted at the workgroup and small-to medium-sized business, the 9216 fabric switch will come with a base of 16 1Gb/s or 2Gb/s ports with one free slot that can be outfitted with either a 16- or 32-port line card, for up to 48 ports. The 9509 director will come with 9 slots and a maximum of 224 ports. It features a 1.44TB crossbar switch, and a fully redundant architecture.

In the second half of 2003, Cisco will ship the MDS 9506 and 9513, as well as an 8-port IP Storage Switch module.

In several respects, "Cisco has an advantage over the incumbents," says Arun Taneja, senior analyst, Enterprise Storage Group. Among them, he lists density, IP capabilities and port count, which compares favorably to the 128 ports of Brocade's Silkworm 12000, and 140 ports of McData's newly minted 6140.

MDS 9000 customers should also benefit from Cisco's expertise designing "intelligent" networking gear. Cisco has promised multiprotocol support (eventually iSCSI and FCIP); traffic management, security and diagnostics tools; management capabilities (initially in the form of the embedded Cisco Fabric Manager), and the ability to host storage applications directly on the switch.

That said, "I don't think a successful outcome is a given," Taneja adds. "Cisco is playing in Brocade and McData's field where the rules are very different." For example, Cisco sells direct or through resellers, but most storage networking gear is purchased through an OEM, points out Brandon Hoff, McData senior manager of strategic marketing.

Going forward, "Cisco's go-to market strategy is to work with storage subsystem vendors," says Ed Chapman, Cisco's senior director of marketing for the storage technology group, although he declined to mention any names.

So for now, Cisco may be limited to first-time SAN environments. "I don't think many users will tear up existing SAN fabrics to accommodate Cisco," says Data Mobility Group analyst John Webster, "nor will the dominant storage vendors."

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Dig Deeper on SAN technology and arrays

4 Gbit Fibre Channel switch purchase considerations Switches are particularly crucial in a storage area network (SAN) to interconnect servers and storage devices into the overall SAN fabric. As SANs scale up, data centers are often upgrade and expand the SAN switch infrastructure. In most cases, the switch fabric is based on traditional Fibre Channel (FC) technology for its high speed, low latency and advanced reliability features such as ISL trunking, as well as security features that protect the storage network. Faster switch ports not only allow for faster interconnections, but also support several slower devices connected to the same port (e.g., two 2 Gbit storage devices fanned in to a single 4 Gbit switch port). This tactic can help to mitigate the cost of 4 Gbit ports by reducing the total switch port count. The actual choice of an enterprise switch demands careful consideration of issues like speed, performance, port count and interoperability. This segment will first focus on specific considerations for director-class 4 Gbit FC switches. After that, you'll also find a series of specifications to help make on-the-spot product comparisons between vendors.

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