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Cisco's new switches may threaten hardware vendors, storage integrators

Cisco's entry into the storage switching market may give Brocade a run for its money, but will Cisco's direct sales model also threaten the ever-present storage integrators?

Cisco's introduction of a family of multilayer storage switches earlier this week spawned a number of questions about interoperability, product support and sales methods.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif., which is arguably the biggest dog in the SAN yard, raised doubts about these issues and more, but said Cisco's entry into Fibre Channel switching is, most important, an endorsement.

"I view this as an admission by Cisco that, in the data center, Fibre Channel is the clear winner and that they sure chucked the [storage over] IP strategy quickly," said Stephen Beer, director of product marketing for Brocade Hardware Platforms, when asked about Cisco's new MDS 9000 line of storage switches.

Brocade also claims that Cisco's direct sales strategy could put storage integrators, the vendors who set up SANs for enterprises, out on the street.

"How is Cisco going to go to market? Are they going to cut the end user off from the system integrator?" Beer said. "I think they're taking money out of the pockets of the current players, and Cisco's direct strategy would leave them out."

When asked about the company's sales strategy, a Cisco spokesman said the company definitely plans to tap storage integrators to get its products to the users. The company's direct sales force will work in complement with storage integrators to design, sell and support its switches.

Steve Duplessie, founder and analyst for The Enterprise Storage Group Inc., Milford, Mass., has fears that Cisco has aspirations to really get into the storage game and sell subsystems attached to those switches.

"If that is the case then I 'd expect the storage players to rally around Brocade and McData, which means those guys will sell even more stuff," Duplessie said.

He added that Cisco will have to radically improve its storage abilities with the original equipment manufacturers in order to be successful.

Another issue at hand is Cisco's ability, or lack thereof, to support current storage standards and configurations.

In response, Cisco says it will move toward the CIM model, which is based on open-management standards. More specifically, Cisco will use the Bluefin specification when its switches ship in six months.

"When we do another major software release we will support Bluefin," said Bill Erdman, director of marketing for Cisco's Technology Group. "Our goal is to have a comprehensive interoperability matrix when we release the product in two or three more months."

Erdman is confident that Cisco's industry clout will garner a lot of attention from vendors looking to test and certify storage configurations.

He points to the fact that 12 storage companies have already signed up for interoperability testing with the MDS 9000 family of switches.

Cisco has begun working with Adaptec Inc., Advanced Digital Information Corp., BMC Software Inc., EMC Corp., Emulex Corp., Hitachi Data Systems Corp., IBM, JNI Corp., Netreon Inc., QLogic Corp., StorageNetworks Inc. and Veritas Software Corp.

Cisco's new line includes the MDS 9500 Multilayer Director Series and the MDS 9216. The MDS 9500 series is modular and will be available in 6-, 9- and 13-slot versions known as the Cisco MDS 9506, 9509, and the 9513. The MDS 9506 has 16-port 1G bit/sec Fibre Channel capability, the MDS 9509 has 32-port 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel capability, and the MDS 9513 is an 8-port IP storage module that supports any combination of iSCSI and FCIP protocols. Additionally, the MDS 9216 has one fixed slot containing 16 ports that have 1G bit/sec or 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel capability and one expansion slot for additional ports.

The MDS 9000 series features 1.44T bit/sec and supports up to 256 ports per switch and up to 768 ports per rack.

Most analysts agree that Cisco's 8-, 16- and 32-port switches pose a threat to competing products from Brocade, at least on a technical level. Cisco's director class products are being called "huge."

"Cisco has a great opportunity to own the whole data pathway here. They have stepped up to the plate regarding storage switches just at the time when [our] research indicates market readiness for implementation of larger SANs," said Mike Karp, senior analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, Boulder, Colo.

Let us know what you think about this story. E-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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