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Vendor pitches intelligence on the switch

Sanera's Fibre Channel switch is being touted as a powerful appliance for businesses that want to deploy a single large network or consolidate several small SANs.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At this week's Storage World Conference 2003, speaker after speaker flipped through flashy slides depicting various networked-storage architectures and opined on where to "put the intelligence."

It goes on the server, some said. Others said it belongs on the storage device. And many say that, to some extent, intelligence belongs on the switch.

The people at Sanera Systems Inc. clearly fall into the latter category. Showcasing a Fibre Channel switch called the DS10000, officials with the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Sanera sped through their share of colorful slides, but they also presented their idea with a simple diagram at their booth on the expo floor. It showed how the DS10000 can be partitioned so that different groups of ports can be allocated to different storage area networks (SANs).

The idea is that a user could consolidate several SANs onto a single switch while maintaining the ability to apply different management policies to each pool of data. So a SAN devoted to customer relationship management, for example, and a SAN devoted to e-mail could continue to exist independently via the DS10000. A single switch can be used to manage as many as four different SANs.

At the same time, the physically compact unit is being presented as a powerful appliance for people who want to deploy a single large network. The product scales up to 256 2-gigabit ports or up to 64 10-gigabit ports, which sit inside a single 14RU chassis.

"We're offering what we call the best of both worlds," said Sanera CEO Larry Sanders in an interview with "That has served us well."

Another aspect of the switch is that it can be customized at the paddle level. That is, if an admin wants to split up the ports on a line card among Fibre Channel, iSCSI and FICON traffic, he can do that. Other companies' switches can be sub-allocated to different types of traffic at the line-card level only.

The Sanera team was also busy spreading the news about recent tests that gave the switch strong performance reviews. The firm Miercom found the switch to have superior throughput and low latency compared with other products, Sanera said. The company also told conference attendees that it's partnering with several software companies, including CreekPath Systems and Fujitsu Softek, to foster the development of tools that can be used with the DS10000.

Perhaps because of some of these factors, Sanera's Sanders was one of four CEOs selected by conference organizers to sit on a panel representing "companies to watch." And the Sanera booth seemed to attract its share of visitors.

Asked which products he had found most interesting during the show, attendee Alphy Quintos first mentioned a Sanera competitor -- Cisco Systems Inc., which showed its MDS 9509 switch -- but he offered Sanera's name next.

"The products by Sanera are interesting," said Quintos, who, as a senior systems engineer for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Qwest account, works at a Web hosting facility in Burbank, Calif. He came to the conference because he expects to take on more responsibility for managing the center's SAN.

"It looks like a good product," he said, but added: "I didn't hear anything about customer support. Do they have it? Is it here? Is it as good as Cisco's?"

Asked about this issue, Patrick Harr, Sanera's vice president of marketing and business development, said that the company will offer the switch through OEMs, who will provide support. The reason for that approach, he said, is that Sanera takes the philosophy that the customer wants "one neck to choke" in the event of a problem. Sanera has already signed a deal with one OEM, he said. Sanera is also involved in talks with a service vendor, for if a customer wants to obtain extended support for the product.

"We take support very seriously," Harr said, "because this is a director-class product."

Privately held Sanera has had a DS10000 in a field trial since January, and it officially began beta testing a few weeks ago. The company hasn't settled upon a pricing structure yet, but Harr promises that pricing will be competitive. He speculating that pricing for a 32-port configuration may start in the $50,000 range.

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