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IBM to resell Cisco storage switches

Just months after it made its switch products available for interoperability testing, Cisco has landed a major reselling agreement. IBM said it will resell Cisco's MDS 9000 storage switching product family.

If you build it, they will come.

Storage vendors began testing their products for interoperability with Cisco Systems Inc.'s new storage switch products as soon as the company made them available in November. As a result, the company has nailed the first of what may be a long line of reselling agreements with major storage vendors.

On Tuesday, IBM made public its plans to resell Cisco's MDS 9000 storage switching product family.

Under the terms of the agreement, IBM and its partners will offer customers Cisco's MDS 9000 family of products, beginning with the Cisco MDS 9509 Multilayer Director and Cisco MDS 9216 Multilayer Fabric Switch, as well as associated modules, Cisco said. IBM expects to finish interoperability qualification of these products and offer them to customers by the end of the first quarter of 2003.

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group Inc., Milford, Mass., said that Cisco won't stop with IBM. He said there will be a domino effect, with Cisco striking similar deals with other companies.

"If they get EMC and [Hitachi Data Systems], and you have to figure they will sooner or later, then they get a huge chunk of the Fibre Channel switch market channels," Duplessie said. "You then figure Hewlett-Packard would rather join them than fight them, and now Cisco nails 100% of the [reselling] market opportunity."

Duplessie said that if Cisco's deal with IBM runs smoothly, the other storage switch makers, like McData Corp., Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Inrange Technologies Corp., will feel the pain. However, even if the IBM deal goes south, Cisco's switches will gain traction in the industry. "If things [don't work out,] then those guys get to breathe easier for a while, but not forever, as Cisco will figure [the storage market] out," he said.

Bill Erdman, director of marketing for Cisco's technology group, said the goal is to have a comprehensive interoperability matrix when the product line is released over the next couple of months.

Twelve storage companies have already signed up for interoperability testing with the MDS 9000 family of switches.

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

The competition has been rattling Cisco's cage since its entrance into the storage switch market was announced last August, calling Cisco a Johnny-come-lately. Brocade raised doubts about Cisco's strategy and said Cisco's foray into storage was an acknowledgement that Fibre Channel is a money maker.

Enterprise Storage Group analyst Nancy Marrone said the industry has been skeptical about Cisco's entry into the storage market. Critics have charged that just because Cisco can do IP, that doesn't mean the company understands storage networking, she said.

"Having a major storage vendor like IBM resell the Cisco solutions validates that Cisco can be a significant player in the storage networking market," she said.

Marrone said that features like built-in protocol analysis, which is common in the IP networking space, and the ability to create virtual storage area networks (SANs) give the Cisco switches an advantage in environments where administrators want management capabilities similar to what they have in their IP networks. "Of course, this bodes well for IBM, considering they sell solutions for the entire enterprise. They can now pitch a more cohesive enterprise solution to their customers," she said.

The highly anticipated MDS 9000 family offers multi-protocol and multi-transport integration, virtual SANs, security, traffic management, diagnostics and unified SAN management.

IBM has a laundry list of storage hardware working with the Cisco switches, including the TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server, IBM TotalStorage FAStT family of midrange disk arrays, TotalStorage Enterprise Tape System and Enterprise Tape Library, as well as the IBM TotalStorage UltraScalable Tape Library and Ultrium Scalable Tape Library. IBM Tivoli storage software provides discovery and monitoring for the Cisco MDS 9000 family, with future support being developed.

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 Fibre Channel capability. It 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." Let us know what you think about the story. E-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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