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QLogic gives 8 Gbit capability to SANbox 9000 FC switch

Despite speculation, QLogic isn't killing the SANBox 9000 Fibre Channel switch. It has, however, given up trying to compete as an enterprise director and is setting its sites on SMBs.

QLogic Corp. today said it would ship 8 Gbps blades for its SANbox 9000 Fibre Channel switches and committed to 16 Gbit blades down the road in an attempt to end speculation that it would kill the product.

However, QLogic has repositioned the SANbox 9000 from a low-cost director that competes with high-end enterprise products from Brocade and Cisco to a high port-count switch for SMBs and small enterprises. The SANbox 9000 scales to 128 ports, and customers can stack two chassis for 256 ports.

During QLogic's last earnings call in May, H.K. Desai, QLogic CEO, said the company would shift the focus on its switching business to edge and blade switches. That gave the impression that QLogic was bailing out of the director market where it has had little success since launching the SANbox 9000 in 2006.

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Now, Desai says his comments were misunderstood. "We said our strategy was to invest in the blade and the edge switches first, and then let's complete the product line and invest in the director class," he said.

QLogic, primarily a host bus adapter (HBA) vendor, has given up on competing in the director space. While the SANbox 9000 is fault tolerant with nondisruptive code load, it lacks mainframe connectivity that is crucial to the high-end storage space. Storage vendors Hitachi Data Systems and Sun sell the switch, but QLogic failed to win OEM deals with EMC and IBM, the market leaders in enterprise storage systems. Without those vendors' backing, QLogic found it nearly impossible to sell the SANbox 9000 as a director.

"The enterprise already has an installed base with two large vendors, and it's difficult to penetrate that market," Desai said.

The SANbox 9000 fits in with shops looking for a switch with more ports than the midrange switches sold by competitors, firms looking to upgrade from smaller SANbox switches and organizations going to their first SAN, Desai said.

Digital Film Tree, which does post-production work for television and movie companies, and helps design storage networks for other companies as a consultant, fits the SANbox 9000 profile.

Ramy Katrib, Digtial Film Tree CEO, said he's been using SANbox 9000 switches since they started shipping. He said he first purchased QLogic switches primarily because they work with Apple Xserve storage, which the company uses internally, and for systems it designs for outside firms. He's been happy with performance and price.

"We haven't had any failures of any kind as far as a QLogic switch going down," Katrib said. "The SANbox 9000 was one big switch instead of having a bunch of little switches, and you can connect multiple switches together to scale as a path for growth."

Digital Film Tree has 128 ports on its SANbox 9000 and four 20-port SANbox 5000 switches Katrib said. He expects to upgrade to 8 Gbit to be able to process more jobs at higher resolutions.

Digital Film Tree is hardly your typical storage shop, Katribe admitted. QLogic still has to establish itself in more mainstream storage environments to have success with the SANbox 9000.

Bob Laliberte, Enterprise Strategy Group analyst, said going mainstream will be easier to do without trying to compete as a director. "It is really difficult to break into the large enterprise data center and compete head-to-head against an installed base like Brocade's, and a sales/marketing and account ownership machine like Cisco," he said. "QLogic has great channels for low-end switches, and its focus has always been to make it easier to deploy and really cost-effective."

QLogic did not release specific pricing for the SANbox 9000, but Apple's online store sells a 16-port single blade CPU model for $32,000 and a dual-CPU blade 32-port device for $52,000. Those include 4 Gbit blades. Frank Berry, QLogic vice president of corporate communications, said 8 Gbit blades would have about a 15% premium over 4 Gbit.

The 8 Gbit blades are expected around September. QLogic HBAs and SANbox 5000 switches have supported 8 Gbit since March.

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