By Heidi Biggar
Last month, Cisco 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.
IBM officials say end users can expect initial shipments of Fibre Channel-based multi-layer fabric switches and directors within the next month. Cisco plans to provide iSCSI and FCIP blade support also within the next month, with IBM shipments of the multi-protocol switches and directors expected in the second quarter.
Shortly after IBM's announcement, Hewlett-Packard said that it, too, will resell Cisco's MDS line of fabric switches. HP, which is currently testing and qualifying the Cisco products, plans to make the switches available to its StorageWorks storage area network (SAN) customers sometime this half.
Both HP and IBM will sell the switches under the Cisco brand name.
"These partnerships are proof points 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 by the end of the calendar year (see "Cisco squares off against Brocade, McData," InfoStor, October 2002, p.1).
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 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.
Both IBM and Hewlett-Packard officials say that their newly formed partnerships with Cisco will not affect their existing relationships with Cisco competitors 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.
The Cisco partnership lets customers choose 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.
Similarly, HP officials say that the relationship simply expands its customers' choices and capabilities.
Industry analysts say that while these partnerships are "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, senior analyst and 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," InfoStor, December 2002, p. 8).
Webster says that, although 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 advantage by virtue of its size and stature within the IT community."
Cisco says it plans to announce other partnerships in the coming months and that its next phase of development will focus on iSCSI.