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European users dig CNT's director switch

Storage users across the pond are checking out the new director-class switch from CNT to connect SAN islands together.

Computer Network Technology Corp. (CNT) claims its phones are ringing off the hook in Europe, where users are interested...

in its new director-class switch for connecting distributed SANs together.

The company claims it is talking to "dozens" of users in Europe who are looking at the switch for storage consolidation projects, according to Robin Pilcher, European director of marketing at CNT. Two he could publicly name include UK retailer Litttlewoods Ltd. and Alcanet Europe, a subsidiary of the Alcatel Group.

"CNT is giving us the right signal for the future --- it will allow a more efficient utilization of storage resources and offer new network-based services, which is a very interesting aspect, especially for data center service providers like Alcanet," said Hans-Peter Rathmann, storage management manager at Alcanet Europe, which supports one of the world's largest private networks with 80,000 users.

Rathmann is referring to storage services such as virtualization, volume management and remote replication, which will eventually be handled by the switch. CNT is talking to a number of different software vendors that are porting their software to its UltraNet Multi-service Director (UMD). Veritas Corp. is the likely suspect for volume management, Falconstor Software Inc. for heterogeneous replication and Incipient Corp. for virtualization.

"We support the SMI-S FAIS standard for fabric-based services, and these vendors are slowly writing implementations of their software that support this standard also …. Many users have told us they are going back to review their SAN strategies in the light of this," Pilcher said.

The first of CNT's UMD series is the Model 16, available at the end of August from IBM Corp., CNT's first announced reseller of the switch. The company is also talking with EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems for certification, although no dates have been set.

Model 16 offers 256 non-blocking ports for Fibre Channel and/or FICON traffic. Support for iSCSI, FCIP, Ethernet, and SONET is expected to be available next year. Each port on the switch is protocol and speed agnostic, supporting one through 10 Gbps Fibre Channel and Ethernet.

One feature that is apparently striking a cord with users is the ability to consolidate existing SANs by partitioning the switch into multiple logical domains, according to CNT's Pilcher. When partitioned in this way, the enclosure's switch core itself handles the communications between the domains, instead of wasting ports for Inter-Switch Links, which can be used appropriately as server and storage ports.

Cell-based switching is another performance feature that differentiates the switch from its competitors, Pilcher noted. Cell-based switching relates to how the switch processes traffic through the backplane. In traditional switches, Fibre Channel traffic enters the port and is passed through the switch in frames. Rather than hefting large chunks of data, CNT's UMD breaks the frames down into tiny cells and sends masses of them in parallel through the switch, then reassembles them back into the FC frame on exit. "We can get the data through the switch much faster this way," Pilcher said.

Additional models in the family, available some time in 2005, include the UMD-2 (32 ports) for departmental and remote data centers; UMD-7 (112 ports) for mid-sized businesses or small data centers; and the UMD-32, designed for service providers or very large organizations, scales up to 512 ports with 5 Tbps of system throughput.

The switch offers all the high availability features expected on a product of this generation, including active-active load sharing and fail-over capabilities, hot swappable everything, multiple redundant paths, non disruptive code-load activation and advanced diagnostics and reporting. Pricing will be set by CNT's OEMs once the product starts shipping.

Hamish MacArthur, founder of analyst firm MacArthur Stroud International, suggests the focus in Europe and the U.S. around SANs is different. "The U.S. is keyed up on small and medium businesses … But it's the larger companies that already have SANs that are buying technology to pull these distributed islands and remote offices together …that's the biggest driver for SAN sales over here," he said.

Another reason for the interest in CNT's Director in Europe is that Europeans have a "stronger solution orientation, whereas the U.S. tends to be single product focused," MacArthur said. "Putting together SANs takes you up the food chain to larger companies." He estimated that over 50% of medium to large companies on the continent have already implemented storage networks.

MacArthur noted that CNT's success is dependent on it winning OEM relationships, which will be tough given there are only a few of these deals to be had and steep competition. "The storage networking market really needs to open up and become like the LAN market, where users can buy from a multitude of different vendors knowing that the products will work together." He added that standards like FAIS are probably still years away as the current OEM model is so entrenched.

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