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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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