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Cisco and Brocade prepare to duel

Two major players duke it out for establishing a strong presence in either the iSCSI or FC market.

In a new Illuminata "Quick Note" titled "Cisco and Brocade Trade Pawns," the Nashua, NH-based analyst firm compares the matchup of the two giants to a chess game. But something rougher might also be an apt comparison, admits Illuminata analyst John Webster.

Briefly, Webster says that in storage networking, "vendors believe that whoever controls the center of the fabric, controls the network." Brocade had staked its claim, but on April 9 Cisco offered a series of announcements that makes it clear it is aiming for the prize. The move is no surprise to industry watchers. Last year, Cisco purchased NuSpeed Internet Systems, which was developing an IP-based alternative to Fibre Channel for transmitting SCSI-based storage traffic using a protocol called iSCSI. Now called Cisco's Storage Router Business Unit, NuSpeed continues to be active in the iSCSI standards movement, playing a high-profile role in the IP storage working group within the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), says Webster.

Perhaps even more important, Cisco has also been working to implement iSCSI as an IETF standard. Webster says many vendors have already started positioning themselves with regard to iSCSI. They're now waiting to see how the user base responds. If the response is strong, others will rush products to market.

"The more immediate impact will be on users," says Webster. "They are the real winners here and now have an alternative to Fibre Channel that they can at least explore and experiment with."

"I think Cisco's entry will raise the credibility of IP storage in particular and networked storage in general in the minds of users who have been skeptical about both," adds Webster. However, Webster warns that iSCSI is in the same danger of being overhyped as Fibre Channel was two years ago. "We still don't really know if this is going to work in a production data center environment," he says. "And many of the other components required are still not yet available. Until both of those conditions are met, all bets are off."

Additional resources:

* Do you have a storage networking question? Try to stump our expert Marc Farley.

* Browse through our archive of seachStorage SAN/NAS Industry Update tips .

* What do you think of iSCSI and Fibre Channel? Post your opinions on our searchStorage Storage Networking discussion forum .

About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.

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