By Dave Simpson
Last week, MaXXan Systems began production shipments of an "intelligent switching platform" that promises to move storage intelligence (applications) from hosts and subsystems into the storage network fabric. Although analysts praised the technology, they say that the start-up will have a tough row to hoe when it bumps up against Cisco and Brocade, which are expected to introduce platforms with similar functionality later this year. (Brocade's play comes via its acquisition of Rhapsody Networks.)
"MaXXan will have to project a clearly differentiated statement to the market, as well as attract some major partners [to be successful]," says John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group. MaXXan thus far does not have any major OEM or reseller partners other than Veritas (see below) for its MXV320 switch.
MaXXan is betting on a potential trend toward moving applications such as storage virtualization, replication, backup/restore, and management into switches, as opposed to running the applications from host servers or storage subsystems. However, vendors such as Cisco and Brocade advocate the same trend—delivering storage applications as a service of the network. But it's unclear if—or when—applications will move into the fabric.
"Moving storage applications onto embedded server boards [on switching platforms] holds nominal appeal at this point," says Marc Staimer, founder of Dragon Slayer Consulting, in Beaverton, OR. "It assumes that the best place for storage applications is in the fabric, but one issue it doesn't address is, 'How do you ensure high availability of the application with a reasonable cost? What happens to the LUN map if the application blade or switch goes down?' "
In addition to functioning as an applications host, the MXV320 combines elements of a Fibre Channel director (a high-end, fully redundant switch) and a multi-protocol router that has programmable network processors at every port. The platform has Fibre Channel ports, which users can re-configure as Gigabit Ethernet ports for FC/IP connections. The switch scales from 10 to 320 ports (in a dual-chassis configuration). The company claims wire speeds at the port level.
MaXXan's SANCruiser management software can be integrated into management frameworks such BMC Software's Patrol, CA Unicenter, and HP Openview.
Also this month, MaXXan released the SG100 Storage Gateway, which comes with Veritas' ServPoint NAS software for Linux, as well as the Veritas File System, Volume Manager, and Cluster Server software. The SG100 can be used as a NAS-SAN gateway or can be integrated as a blade into MaXXan's MXV chassis.
Hardware includes duel Intel Xeon processors, four PCI-X buses, up to 12GB of memory, 10 2Gbps Fibre Channel ports, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst with The Enterprise Storage Group, says that integration of the network-attached storage (NAS) head into the switching platform is unique. However, she notes that the NAS head is currently only sharing the enclosure and that there is no integration with the switch. In the future, MaXXan plans to integrate the NAS head with the switching platform so that the arrays attached to the Fibre Channel SAN are the NAS back-end (connected through the backplane).
Pricing for the SG100 begins at $44,600.