Cisco launches entry-level 4Gbps switch

By Kevin Komiega

—Cisco is taking a crack at the small to medium-sized business (SMB) SAN market with the launch of an entry-level fabric switch as part of its MDS family of storage networking products.

Cisco today announced the availability of the MDS 9124 Multilayer Fabric Switch, an entry-level, 4Gbps Fibre Channel device packed with security services, support for Cisco's Virtual SAN (VSAN) architecture, and a "pay-as-you-grow" pricing model.

Based on the same SAN OS software used in Cisco's larger director-class products, the MDS 9124 fabric switch is positioned as a fit for SMBs, departmental SANs, or core-edge enterprise SANs.

The MDS 9124 starts with eight active 4Gbps Fibre Channel ports and can scale up to 24 ports in a 1U form factor. Users can select eight, 16, or 24 ports, adding ports as needed via port activation licenses.

"Enterprise-class features are becoming equally important for [SMBs] as they are for larger enterprises. Things like business continuity, disaster recovery, high availability, and security are just as important for companies with limited IT budgets and limited expertise," says Rajeev Bhardwaj, director of product management for Cisco's Data Center Business Unit.

According to Cisco, provisioning and affordability have historically been the biggest obstacles for smaller companies trying to migrate from direct-attached storage to networked storage. Bhardwaj says the MDS 9124 addresses those issues with simple management and a reasonable price tag.

"If you have to configure SAN services you have to worry about things like worldwide names and HBA target ports. It becomes a fairly involved process. Setting up the MDS 9124 is a three-step process," says Bhardwaj.

Arch-rival Brocade claims that Cisco is attempting to play catch-up in the race to offer 4Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity to smaller companies and maintains that its experience in the entry-level SAN switching market and wide range of customers will keep Brocade atop the market. But, regardless of which company leads the way, competition should mean lower prices for end users.

"Is this a signal that lower Fibre Channel port pricing, with software included, is the new trend, or is it just a brief anomaly aimed at taking advantage of market consolidation, disruptions, and timing?" says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at The StorageIO Group consulting firm.

He hopes it is the former.

"I think we're heading in the direction toward more-effective pricing on Fibre Channel ports for adapters and switches so that the technology can continue versus being held at bay by real or perceived high prices that could enable cannibalization at a faster rate by iSCSI or other network interfaces," says Schulz.

Schulz explains that the key to success in the entry-level SAN market for Brocade, Cisco, and QLogic is not to just try to cannibalize each other's installed base but, rather, to grow and expand their Fibre Channel switch businesses into new directions.

Cisco has a sizeable roster of partners that will resell the MDS 9124 switch, including Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, Network Appliance, Sun, and Xiotech.

Additionally, Cisco's Bhardwaj says HP and IBM will soon announce availability of embedded blade versions of the MDS 9124 for use in their blade server systems. HP and IBM are expected to start selling the blade switches in the February time frame.

The MDS 9124 will be generally available next month. Pricing will be set by Cisco's partners.

This article was originally published on November 20, 2006