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
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 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.

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