Cisco to Buy Server Switch Maker Topspin

Cisco Systems is moving into grid computing with a deal to buy networking gear maker Topspin Communications for $250 million in cash and options.

Privately-held Topspin is one of the top providers of switches designed to knit servers into a grid, adding network and storage in the process. The switches also provide a backbone for utility computing, server virtualization and clustered applications.

Cisco said in a statement that it would use Topspin’s technology to help customers build out grid computing in their data centers. Once relegated to research and development, grid computing is catching fire among commercial entities. Enterprises, service providers and universities are employing grids of computers to run high-performance applications.

Topspin’s devices shuttle data across networks using InfiniBand , a well-regarded technology that never quite caught on with vendors looking for speedier data transfer.

Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said the purchase makes a lot of sense for Cisco, which lacks an InfiniBand-based switch. By arriving to InfiniBand a bit late, Topspin saved cash that rivals burned through while cultivating a more advanced portfolio than rivals such as InfiniCon and Voltaire.

Topspin’s savvy enabled it to win deals with IBM, Dell, HP and Sun
Microsystems, which plug the Mountain View, Calif. company’s switches into their servers.

While some detractors have said InfiniBand is a wash, Haff noted the
technology has had success in high-performance computing and shows promise in niche areas like database clusters.

“InfiniBand has arrived if not at the pervasive, all-singing, all-dancing uber-fabric that its more breathless backers once predicted,” Haff said. “So this gives Cisco strong capability to play in InfiniBand fabrics. It also helps Cisco cover its bets somewhat — in the event that InfiniBand-based fabrics end up gaining some position against IP-based Ethernet ones.”

Cisco expects Topspin’s products will complement its network and storage switching lines, including its Ethernet-based Catalyst switching platform for the Internet and MDS switches for storage area networks (SAN) .

Should the deal close in the fourth quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2005, Topspin’s 135 employees will join Cisco’s Data Center, Switching and Wireless Technology Group, led by Senior Vice President Luca Cafiero.

“The widespread adoption of server architectures such as blades, grid
computing, and clustered applications is driving an emerging market
opportunity within the data center,” said Cafiero. “As our customers build out these new computing environments, it is important that we deliver server networking technologies to fit their needs.”

Separately, Cisco said new network address translation capabilities for its Inter-Virtual SAN routing (IVR) feature give administrators the ability to merge legacy SANs and share resources across heterogeneous SANs.

Also, Fibre Channel Network Address Translation (FC NAT), an enhancement of Cisco’s existing IVR function for SAN Routing, is available as part of the Cisco MDS 9000 SAN-OS 2.1 operating system. This tool lets customers route between multi-vendor SANs without address limitations.

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