DrHitch - Fotolia

News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

Cisco ships 32-gig 'beast,' MDS 9718 FC director

Cisco launches its largest FC director, the MDS 9718, which will be upgradeable to 32-gig FC when it is widely supported. Targets for this product include flash storage and DevOps.

Cisco beefed up its Fibre Channel storage connectivity today with a behemoth programmable "32-gigabit per second...

ready" SAN multi-layer storage director.

The FC director is aimed at delivering performance for DevOps and flash storage, and displays Cisco's commitment to the FC protocol despite slow market growth.

The new MDS 9718, which Cisco refers to as "the Beast," has native Restful API support and is the vendor's largest and densest SAN switch with 768 ports. The MDS 9718 joins Cisco's 192-port MDS 9706 and 384-port MDS 9710 directors. All three use the same line cards, NX-OS operating system, and power supplies. The 9718 has 16 line cards with ports, the 9710 has eight line cards and 9706 has four line cards.

Cisco's FC director switch rival Brocade's largest director, the DCX 8510-8 Backbone, has 512 16-gig FC ports. Brocade's roadmap calls for 32-gig connectivity in the first half of this year.

Bracing the product line for 32-gig FC

The MDS 9718 is a 16-gig director today, but Adarsh Viswanathan, Cisco's senior manager of product marketing for storage, said customers will be able to upgrade with software and 32-gig line cards when they become available.

Viswanathan said he expects host bus adapters to support 32-gig FC in 2016, followed by switch vendors and finally array vendors beginning in 2017. High optic costs will probably make 32-gig rare in production until those costs begin to come down in 2018.

Brocade has historically been more bullish on FC while Cisco tried to push Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) into more SAN deployments. Cisco usually lags Brocade by about a year in supporting the latest FC bandwidth increases.

But Cisco is moving into position to have 32-gig FC as soon as it is available, which is a departure from its past strategy.

"We're telling customers, 'We'll provide a seamless, smooth way to transition to 32-gig Fibre Channel,'" Viswanathan said. "They won't have to rip and replace to get there."

Native Restful API addition aids developers

The MDS 9718 is the first FC director to have native Restful API, a capability that will facilitate DevOps that require rapid cycle times. Brocade supports Restful APIs through its SAN management software but not natively on its FC director switches. Cisco claims the native support makes it easier for developers to parse and script compared to using a traditional command line interface. Viswanathan said Restful API support allows the switches to integrate easily with third-party management tools through HTTPS.

"Supporting API calls through the management platform still requires talking to the switch in the old ways, and you still have to manage and patch software," he said. "Customers have been asking us to provide Restful API calls directly to the switch for programmability purposes."

A Restful API uses HTTPS calls to the MDS 9700 switch and gets output in JSON/XML format. Restful APIs are commonly supported on Ethernet switches but not on FC director switches.

Putting stock in all-flash arrays

Viswanathan said the extra ports and bandwidth support will also help meet the performance needs of all-flash arrays.

"There are flash vendors who claim they can fill a 16-gig pipe very easily," he said. "They are saying, 'We have removed the bottleneck in the storage controller, I can fill that 16-gig pipe and once you have 32-gig pipe I can fill that down the road.' What if you can build a 768-port SAN where you can connect servers and flash arrays on the same switch, so you're not adding hop latencies and you can take advantage of backplane switching?"

Director switches are often sold through OEM or reseller deals with storage array vendors. Cisco array partners include EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, NetApp, IBM, Nimble Storage, Pure Storage, Tegile, and Violin Systems. The MDS 9718 is expected to be available for those vendors' arrays within three months.

Customers who have adopted a DevOps approach can take these switches and do quicker provisioning and troubleshooting.
Daniel CondeAnalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Daniel Conde said Cisco is taking the next steps with speed, density and port counts with its new director, but he considers the programmability more interesting. "Customers who have adopted a DevOps approach can take these switches and do quicker provisioning and troubleshooting," he said.

He said Cisco is adding similar capabilities as it has in its Ethernet switches, to give developers "a consistent view while provisioning switches on the Fibre Channel side as well as the Ethernet side."

While Ethernet has cut into FC SAN connectivity, FC remains the choice for large enterprise and service providers who require performance for transactional data, and now for flash and DevOPs. FC adoption is expected to decline over the next few years, but Viswanathan said, "Fibre Channel has a long tail, it's difficult to predict."

ESG's Conde added: "Fibre Channel's not booming but it's still popular for people who run mission critical workloads. There are a lot of use cases now for using Ethernet with file and object storage, but people will continue to use Fibre Channel for workloads that have to run in a predictable way."

Next Steps

Cisco adds 96-port FC director switch

Brocade adds Ethernet support to its FC extension switch

Next-generation storage switching poised to heat up in 2016

Dig Deeper on SAN technology and arrays