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Sandial tackles SAN congestion problems

Sandial Systems on Tuesday announced its Shadow 14000 Storage Backbone Switch, which has a connection-oriented switching architecture that the company hopes will set it apart from the competition.

Dissatisfied with your options for director-class switches? Portsmouth, N.H.-based Sandial Systems Inc. on Tuesday formally announced its Shadow 14000 Storage Backbone Switch, even though the product has been generally available since October.

With 144 2 Gbps any-to-any non-blocking ports, a dual redundant crosspoint switch, front-panel accessibility and non-disruptive code load, the Shadow 14000 is a "true director-class switch" says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group. "It's all there."

What differentiates the Shadow 14000 from other high-end SAN networking equipment, though, is its connection-oriented switching architecture, dubbed ConnectIQ.

According to Michael Welts, Sandial's executive vice president of marketing, ConnectIQ gives the Shadow 14000 the ability "to traffic-shape your network traffic, giving you a guaranteed level of application performance."

Without some traffic-shaping ability, switches are merely "network black boxes," he said. "You cannot see into them, control them, or fine-tune the performance of the network."

Users of the Sandial product manage traffic through the graphical ShadowView management utility, which you can use to set policies, create application policy groups (APGs), dynamically assign switch ports and so forth.

For Sandial customer Harte-Hanks Inc., a direct marketing firm based in Billerica, Mass., the Shadow 14000's traffic-shaping capabilities provided critical support. "We have a large hosting business," said Scott Hopkins, Harte-Hanks' vice president of technology services and planning. Traffic-shaping "allows us to manage large customers with SLAs and ensure the storage and throughput a customer gets." Harte-Hanks installed the Shadow 14000 late in 2003, as part of a migration from direct-attached storage to a storage area network (SAN).

Sandial's connection-oriented architecture is desirable in the world of Fibre Channel SANs, says David Freund, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H. "Think about what a SAN is," he said: "a collection of pooled storage shared by a great number of servers. This many-to-few structure, by its very nature, creates an environment that is ripe for contention."

SAN users may not know that they have contention, says Freund, but they do know that they aren't seeing the kind of performance they would like. "They are saying, 'Geez, how am I going to get control over this?'" Freund said. "But, to date, there hasn't been anything offered by the big boys that deals with this."

Furthermore, it's unlikely that Sandial's competition will offer as comprehensive a solution any time soon. Unlike the Shadow 14000, traditional directors employ a frame passing mechanism. "There's no concept of identifying where traffic has come from and keeping track of how the transactions have gone," he said. In other words, you can't "just pop in an intelligent add-in card."

The Shadow 14000 is notable for other reasons, too says Enterprise Storage Group's Marrone-Hurley. For one thing, it features 2-port granularity, versus Cisco's 16 ports. So if one port goes down, you only need to swap out a single 2-port Technology Interface Module (TIM), in Sandial parlance.

Also, unlike other startups in the Fibre Channel world, Sandial has forgone work on fabric-based storage services such as virtualization, Marrone-Hurley says. That doesn't seem to bother Sandial's customers any.

"One customer told me, 'I want my switch to just be a switch,'" she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Alexandra Barrett, Trends editor.

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