RealTime IT News

Cisco Introduces New Intelligent Fabric Switches

Cisco Systems Tuesday raamped up its fierce rivalries with fellow fabric makers Brocade Communications and McData with the addition of two storage area networking (SAN) switches to its Cisco MDS 9000 family.

The Cisco MDS 9120 and Cisco MDS 9140 Multilayer Intelligent fabric switches fill gaps in the San Jose, Calif., vendor's important MDS portfolio. Advertised as low-end devices, the switches actually complement the company's high-end Director switches, which serve as the central pieces to an enterprise's data center.

MDS 9120 and 9140 are peripheral, or edge switches that round out the data service Cisco's Director products provide. Analysts claim customers want to buy more complete suites of products from one source as opposed to a few from one vendor and a few from another and so on because it makes infrastructure management that much easier. Moreover, it costs less than teaching administrators multiple architectures.

"This was something that Cisco needed to add not just to go after a different customer base, but even in the existing customer base," said IDC analyst Rick Villars. "Storage networks are getting more sophisticated and granular in some ways and they needed to have an additional set of products that were lower on the configuration scale."

Evaluator Group Principal Analyst Randy Kerns told internetnews.com the MDS 5120 and 5140 switches are essential for Cisco because it is trying to make headway in a market dominated by Brocade Communications and McData.

It is common practice to begin in the switch market making either central director switches or edge switches --- but not both. Kerns said because switches in the Cisco MDS 9000 family -- from low-end to high-end -- share common hardware and software architectures, customers can protect their investments if and when they upgrade their SANs.

Other members of the MDS 9000 Family include the Cisco MDS 9509 and 9506 Multilayer Directors, as well as the Cisco MDS 9216 Multilayer Fabric Switch for the midrange.

"Cisco needs the MDS 9100 to make its Director switches more appealing to customers," Kerns said.

Kerns said Brocade cut its teeth as an edge switch provider before devising a central director switch. McData's route was vice versa -- central first, edge second. Cisco, which also makes some mid-range switches in its MDS family, echoed McData on this front.

As for differentiation among the competing vendors, Kerns said customers are gunning for tantalizing entry price points in this bear market -- as low as $500 per port -- as opposed to fancy feature functionality.

The Cisco 9100 series are one rack unit-high switches supporting 1 or 2 gigabit/second Fibre Channel connectivity. Available in 20 and 40-port models, they are designed to build and manage small and medium-sized SANs or to provide connectivity into larger SANs from the outer network edge to the core, said Tom Harrington, product manager in the Storage Technology Group at Cisco.

For example, Harrington told internetnews.com a small to medium-sized business can use the Cisco MDS 9120 to build its first entry-level SAN as it migrates from a direct-attached to a networked-storage infrastructure, while a larger company might use the device to meet storage networking requirements of a specific application. The 9140 can help customers connect a large number of servers and storage devices at the edges of SANs.

The switches wouldn't do much good without corresponding software, though Cisco has whipped up Cisco MDS 9000 SAN-OS v. 1.2. Harrington said the new operating system includes enhanced security for SANs, including LUN zoning, read-only zones and port security will help SAN administrators ensure tighter security at both the switch and fabric levels.

The switch operations are also easier to manage, with virtual SAN access control allow administrators to designate user-management rights to specific virtual SANs. There are also improved troubleshooting and diagnostics in the form of Remote SPAN (RSPAN), which extends port analyzer functionality to multi-switch environments and simplifies Fibre Channel troubleshooting.

Harrington said the future of the MDS SAN OS looks bright, as it will contain more connectivity, security, and management features, including support for the popular FICON (Fiber Connector) high-speed mainframe transport protocol by year's end.

The Cisco MDS 9100 is currently undergoing interoperability testing at EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, and IBM, all of whom are expected to qualify the Cisco MDS 9100 and Cisco MDS 9000 SAN-OS v. 1.2 by the end of the third quarter. As is customary for Cisco storage products, each OSM will set pricing for the Cisco MDS 9100.

Kerns said getting the OSMs, as Cisco called them, to pick up its new solutions for resale is a challenge in itself, but one that is rampant across the storage infrastructure market segment.