Low-cost switches enable entry-level SANs

More ports, better management at the high end

By Heidi Biggar

Fibre Channel switch vendors now offer a variety of lower-priced, lower-port-count devices for small to mid-sized companies. For example, end users can now buy 8-port, 2Gbps Fibre Channel switches for as little as $5,000, or $625 per port.

It's no secret that SAN adoption has been slow over the past year, with the majority of installations still at large companies. The primary obstacle has been cost. In fact, in a recent Robert W. Baird and Co. survey of CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers at 87 companies, cost was the number one gating factor to SAN adoption. Of the survey participants, more than 60% said cost was the primary reason they had not implemented a SAN.

But that picture is changing— and changing rapidly as vendors adjust to market conditions and look to drive SAN adoption in lower-end markets. This has affected both switch positioning and pricing as well as overall SAN packaging and pricing. The result is a variety of new lower-cost SAN options and services for end users.

How low can they go?
Introduced in February, QLogic's 8-port, 2Gbps SANbox2 Fibre Channel switch is priced at $5,000 ($625 per port). Pricing includes QLogic's SANsurfer Toolkit, a suite of switch and host bus adapter (HBA) management tools. Among other functions, the suite allows SAN administrators to arrange devices into multiple zoning options, and to automatically group inter-switch links (ISLs) into a single logical ISL. QLogic introduced the switch as part of the Affordable SAN Initiative, which includes more than 35 vendors.

Also in February, Brocade introduced the SilkWorm 3200, an 8-port, 2Gbps Fibre Channel fabric switch. According to company officials, the 3200 has all the features of its higher-end SilkWorm 3800 and 12000 switches (e.g., ISL trunking, frame filtering, and open management), but is priced significantly lower on a per-port basis. The SilkWorm 3200 is available through Brocade's OEM and channel partners for less than $1,000 per port.

Brocade believes much of the activity in the entry-level SAN space will be in Windows NT/2000 environments. Other market opportunities will be in direct-attached storage (DAS)-to-SAN migration, hub replacement, and "edge" installations in large enterprises.

Low-cost 8- and 16-port Fibre Channel switches are also available from vendors such as Gadzoox and Vixel.

At Storage Networking World earlier this month, McData introduced the 2Gbps Sphereon 3000 series of Fibre Channel switches, which includes 16- and 32-port models.

The recommended list price of the 16-port Sphereon 3216 ranges from $29,150 to $31,800. The 32-port Sphereon 3232 ranges from $58,300 to $63,600. In general, McData's 2Gbps switches are priced at a 10% to 20% premium over its 1Gbps devices. The company plans to begin shipping the Sphereon switches in June.

McData is positioning the 16-port switch as a fabric-edge building block. The switch has a variety of high-availability features, including non-disruptive microcode loading, online diagnostics, and redundant power and cooling.

Both the 16- and 32-port switches have a capacity-on-demand feature that enables administrators to purchase capacity (ports) as they go.

The sky's the limit
All the activity in entry-level SAN markets has not slowed the pace of development at the high end, where vendors are touting higher port counts, better management, and improved functionality. Brocade, Inrange, and McData all made announcements in this area over the past two months. Devices with as many as 256 ports are now available, and management has become more intuitive (see sidebar).

Leading the port-count race is Inrange, which in February, began controlled introduction of a 256-port Fibre Channel director-class switch. The director, part of the company's IN-VSN FC/9000 family, can be used in open systems and FICON environments and is a fully redundant, non-blocked switching device.

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The 256-port switch is being tested by IBM, which currently resells Inrange's 64- and 128-port directors for use in its TotalStorage Enterprise Server Networks.

Late last month, Brocade announced the general availability of its SilkWorm 12000, a 2Gbps 128-port (2 x 64) core fabric switch. Brocade says it chose to refer to the device as a "switch" rather than a "director" because of the company's exclusive focus on SAN, not FICON, environments.

The SilkWorm 12000, which was pre-announced a year ago, leverages the same technology as the SilkWorm 3200 and 3800 switches but has the port count to play in much larger SAN environments (e.g., SANs with 100 ports or more). Advanced features include ISL trunking and frame filtering.

A 128-port switch announcement is expected from McData this quarter, with shipments due in the third quarter. Meanwhile, McData earlier this month announced the 64-port, 2Gbps Intrepid series of directors. Pricing is expected to fall between $222,000 and $242,000. General availability is slated for June.

Gadzoox enables embedded switches

By Dave Simpson

In an effort to reduce Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) complexity and cost, Gadzoox Networks recently began shipments of the Slingshot-ES (Embedded Switch), which allows disk subsystem, server, or tape library vendors to embed the switch in their devices.

Gadzoox's first OEM for the device is Compaq, which integrates two Slingshot-ES switches in the controller bay of its MSA 1000 SAN/array. Compaq refers

to the MSA 1000 as a "direct-to-SAN" solution.

For disk array vendors, embedded switches allow product differentiation. For end users, the primary benefits are reduced costs and easier SAN integration and management, because administrators can manage the switch and storage subsystem as one entity.

In addition to integrating the switch in storage subsystems, it will be possible to use embedded switches in, for example, converged NAS-SAN systems and environments. In this scenario, the switch would connect a network-attached storage (NAS) head to a back-end SAN, providing block-level storage to the NAS engine. The embedded switch could also be used to connect multiple NAS heads or SANs to large tape libraries.

The Slingshot-ES provides all of the features of Gadzoox's external switches, including 2Gbps speed (backward compatible with 1Gbps devices). In addition to off-the-shelf 6- and 8-port versions, customized versions are available with different port counts and sizes. Future implementations will support 10Gbps Ethernet, iSCSI, and FCIP.

Although Gadzoox is first to market, other Fibre Channel switch vendors, including Brocade, QLogic, and Vixel, are expected to follow.

Software tools ease management

By Heidi Biggar

As storage area networks (SANs) scale in size, the need to easily manage the fabric becomes paramount. With that in mind, Fibre Channel switch vendors are developing a variety of software tools to decrease management hassles.

For example, McData is scheduled to begin shipping the 3.0 version of its SANavigator SAN management software next month. The latest release encompasses SAN planning, discovery, management, and automation.

Of the variety of new features, a new policy engine and API strategy are perhaps most notable. With release 3.0, SANavigator users can not only automate certain tasks (through policy-based management) in response to SAN events, but also integrate with various applications and devices.

The company has developed three types of APIs, or "connectors":

  • Element connectors for better device control (e.g., device capability, device management, and diagnostics reporting);
  • Fabric connectors for integrating functionality (e.g., discovery and topology, asset management, zoning, and security); and
  • Application connectors for broader application support (e.g., virtualization and management frameworks).

McData also added a variety of new reporting, monitoring, and search tools.

In February, Inrange announced its Virtual Storage Networking architecture, which the company says will not only simplify the management of storage networks, but will also allow SAN administrators to more easily scale these networks. The architecture consists of five hardware/software services. (For more information on Inrange's Virtual Storage Networking, see InfoStor, March 2002, p. 52.)

This article was originally published on April 01, 2002