By Heidi Biggar
Earlier this week, Cisco announced that it has signed up IBM as the first major OEM of its MDS family of Fibre Channel and multi-protocol switches and directors. The move was not surprising, given the two companies' long-standing relationship in the networking market.
Officials from Cisco and IBM say end users can expect to see initial shipments of Fibre Channel-based multi-layer fabric switches and directors from both companies by the end of this quarter and that iSCSI/FCIP blade support is expected from Cisco by the end of this quarter and from IBM by mid-year.
"This partnership is a proof point of our August-stated go-to-market strategy for storage networking," says Soni Jiandani, vice president of marketing in Cisco's storage technology group.
Last summer, Cisco announced its intention to acquire storage switch vendor Andiamo Systems and to make Andiamo-developed multi-protocol switching technologies available to the storage market by the end of the calendar year (see Cisco squares off against Brocade, McData).
According to Jiandani, Cisco has completed beta testing of its MDS 9216 multi-layer fabric switches and 9509 multi-layer directors. The products will now be made widely available to Cisco and IBM customers.
The idea behind these types of "intelligent" switches/directors is to enable end users to consolidate disparate storage networks into a single, integrated storage area network (SAN) infrastructure or virtual SAN (VSAN).
Specific MDS features include the ability to support multiple protocols and transports (e.g., Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and FCIP) and to actively manage and isolate storage networks. Cisco says it also plans to embed various storage services (e.g., network-based virtualization) in future releases of the products. Both the 9216 and the 9509 can be used immediately with IBM/Tivoli's SAN Manager discovery and monitoring software.
IBM officials say that the Cisco partnership will have no effect on IBM's existing reseller relationships with Brocade, McData, and Inrange. "It all boils down to our customers, what they want, and how they want to achieve it," explains Tarek Makansi, program director, business development, at IBM's storage systems division.
Makansi says that the Cisco partnership lets customers pick the right technology for their particular environments, gives them greater choice of suppliers, and, perhaps more importantly, will enable them to converge IP and Fibre Channel SANs in the near future. For ESCON and/or FICON support, end users will want to turn to products from McData or Inrange, Makansi says.
Industry analysts say that while the Cisco-IBM partnership is "interesting," the news doesn't necessarily cement Cisco's future success in the storage networking market. "It will force Brocade to work harder to maintain its position, but that's the nature of the storage business," says John Webster, president and co-founder of the Data Mobility Group. Brocade is in the process of finalizing its acquisition of Rhapsody Networks, also a vendor of multi-protocol switch technology (see Brocade to acquire Rhapsody).
Webster says that, while Cisco does have a large installed base of networking customers, it's still a roll of the dice whether the company will be able to capitalize on this mind share and get customers to jump on the company's storage networking bandwagon. "Cisco's short-term competitive edge lies in finding all those loyal customers who have been waiting on the fence to jump into storage networking," says Webster. "If that turns out to be a big number, then Cisco will have a competitive edge by virtue of its size and stature within the user community."
Cisco says it plans to announce other partnerships in the coming months and that its next phase of development will focus on iSCSI.