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McData router connects multi-vendor SANs

The Eclipse 2640 SAN router interconnects multi-vendor switches, as well as providing distance connectivity over iFCP.

McData Corp. unveiled this week the Eclipse 2640 SAN router, which offers connectivity between Fibre Channel (FC) storage area networks (SANs) over IP networks. The 2640 is the second product to integrate the routing technology McData acquired when it purchased Nishan Systems in August, 2003.

The Broomfield, Colo.-based storage networking vendor claims the key benefits of the 2640 are data mobility over long distances, but also interoperability between multi-mode, multi-vendor fabrics, including those from rivals Cisco Systems Inc. and Brocade Communications Systems.

While the previous router, the Eclipse 1620, was geared more toward small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), featuring two FC ports and 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports, the new 2640 is targeting midrange to large companies and has 16 ports total --12 ports for FC and Gigabit Ethernet and four ports for just Gigabit Ethernet.

With this product, McData claims it is offering the first router to interoperate with FC switches from competitors. "Within a data center, the 2640 router can interconnect SAN fabrics from any vendors -- be it Cisco, Brocade or QLogic," said Prasad Pammidimukkala, McData's director of product management, SAN routing.

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The 2640 is able to do this through its ability to speak the same mode language as other vendors' switches. "Switches either speak in a proprietary mode or an open standards mode, depending on the vendor," said Pammidimukkala. "And McData can communicate with all of them."

Cisco's take

When it comes to routing, competitor Cisco does things a little differently than McData, but still provides multi-vendor connectivity. Instead of using an external box, Cisco uses a partitioning technology called VSANs that simulate the ability to build multi-vendor SAN islands on one single physical fabric. Cisco then uses a process called Inter-VSAN routing (IVR) to selectively route data among the VSANs.

"The problem with an external box is that there is one point of failure," said a Cisco spokesperson, referring to the new McData router. "IVR is more reliable and easier to manage because all the routing is done inside a single platform, maintaining all the inherent characteristics of that platform."

McData is also differentiating itself from its competitors by supporting the iFCP long-distance protocol instead of FCIP. The more common FCIP protocol -- Cisco and Brocade support FCIP and not iFCP -- encapsulates FC frames in TCP/IP packets and places them in Gigabit Ethernet frames. It's used to connect FC SANs over WANs for data replication.

On the other hand, iFCP, which is currently only offered by McData, assigns a TCP/IP address for each FC frame and also packages them in Gigabit Ethernet frames. The key advantage for iFCP over FCIP is the ability to move data from specific devices between the SANs.

"With iFCP, you get fast-write capabilities and compression, which can help maximize throughput over long distances," said Peter Dougherty, McData's vice president of switch platforms. "iFCP does true routing, while FCIP is just a tunneling protocol."

John Webster, senior analyst and partner at Data Mobility Group, said the fast-write and compression features of the 2640 will speed up connection over WANs and give McData an advantage over Brocade, which uses neither fast-write nor compression.

But Webster also said that "the potential issue with iFCP is that it is not as commonly deployed as FCIP," said Webster. "Brocade and Cisco support FCIP and McData does not, so there could be a mismatch."

The Eclipse 2640 is priced at $100,000, depending on how it's configured and which of McData's OEM partners sells it. McData's partners include IBM Corp., EMC Corp., Dell Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).

The Eclipse is slated for general availability in the fourth quarter of this year and comes on the heels of similar product announcements from Brocade and Cisco.

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