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Making Sense of New Intelligent Switch Products

Smart switches have arrived

You won't find them at CompUSA, but some long-vaunted intelligent fabric switches have finally made it into production. In the past couple of months, Cisco has shipped its Advanced Services Module for MDS 9000 switches, running Veritas Storage Foundation for Networks, (VSFN); Maranti Networks shipped its CoreStor family of network storage service controllers; and Maxxan shipped its MXV320 last summer. Brocade is expected to join the club shortly, as it has begun shipping its SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform to OEM and software developer partners.

How do the various intelligent switch products compare? It's hard to say. "The market hasn't had enough time to segment out and mature," says Mike Fisch, director of storage and networking for The Clipper Group, an analyst firm in Wellesley, MA. Of the above-mentioned products, Maranti seems to have built more functionality into its CoreStor line "out of the shoot" than products from Brocade or Cisco, Fisch says, which rely on third-party software. "It's more of an integrated solution, whereas Brocade and Cisco emphasize flexibility," he says.

For Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group, Maranti's integrated approach is very attractive. "Because the code is written for the specific processor, you avoid contention issues," she says. Because if you're running third-party software and run into a problem, "who are you going to call?" she asks. "It seems to me like there would be a huge potential for support issues."

But Clipper Group's Fisch doesn't believe that most storage professionals are ready to deploy an integrated intelligent switch like Maranti's quite yet. Even though he's "convinced that [fabric-based storage services] is a better way to do storage," it's a major step for an IT shop to take, and "customers will be rolling it out incrementally."

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