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McData to broaden range with startup technology

McData's plan to buy IP storage networking startup, Nishan Systems and high-scale SAN switch startup Sanera could open up open up a whole new set of storage networking options for users.

McData has long been known in storage circles for its Fibre Channel director-class switches. But with its announcement yesterday that it will acquire Fibre Channel switch startup Sanera Systems Inc. and SAN extension vendor Nishan Systems Inc., you may be turning to the company for a much broader range of storage networking equipment.

"I really believe that, with these two offerings, McData has the broadest storage switching offerings of any company," says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group, pointing to Cisco Systems Inc. -- not Brocade Communications Systems -- as McData's closest competitor.

McData's product offerings now range from an entry-level 4-port Sphereon 4300 switch, announced earlier this month, all the way to Sanera's 256 non-blocking port intelligent core switch, passing the director-class Intrepid along the way. Acquisition of Nishan's IP Storage Switches, the IPS family, puts McData in the distance connectivity market as well, competing directly against CNT Corp.

But is "broadest" synonymous with "baddest"? Perhaps on some levels. "Sanera is the highest-performing switch out there," Marrone-Hurley says. In particular, it's designed for 10 Gpbs Fibre Channel connectivity, has 256 non-blocking ports, compared with 140 on the McData Intrepid 6400, and has blade-level intelligence capabilities.

Another feather in Sanera's cap is its dynamic partitioning feature, which according to Hopkinton, Mass.-based analyst Arun Taneja, fixes one of the more galling issues of SANs today: that if a device goes down, it causes the reinitialization of the entire SAN. With Sanera's dynamic partitioning, you can "restrict propagation of these fault conditions" so that one device failure doesn't affect the rest of the fabric. It's akin to the virtual SAN feature in Cisco's MDS family of Fibre Channel switches, but "stronger," according to Marrone-Hurley, in that "it is truly hard partitioning."

When will users be able to buy all this Sanera goodness from McData? "We're definitely looking at an integrated product immediately," says Mike Gustafson, McData's vice president of marketing, although admittedly, "integration" refers more to management than it does to a merged director-class product. Instead, the Sanera product will be offered as a separate, rebranded McData product, probably in the first quarter, according to Marrone-Hurley. Between now and then, the Sanera product will be upgraded to include FICON, some McData high-availability technology, and presumably "a lot of [qualification] work."

Brocade's reaction to the news, meanwhile, was ho-hum -- at least to the press. "Let's put this into context: They bought a routing thing, a multiprotocol thing, and something to put increased intelligence into the network," says Tom Buiocchi, Brocade's vice president of marketing. "We absolutely think these are all relevant and important -- it's just that we already had them" in the form of technology acquired from Rhapsody Networks Inc. last November, expected out on the market in the fourth quarter.

What of the fact that the Sanera switch offers exactly twice the port count of the Brocade SilkWorm 1200? "We think that people want to build networks with small and medium-sized building blocks -- that it's more reliable," Buiocchi says. "People that need 256 ports -- that's a portion of the market; we're just not so sure how big it is."


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