Cisco targets Brocade, McData

By Dave Simpson

Earlier this week, Cisco rounded out its Fibre Channel switch line with 20-port and 40-port MDS 9100 series fabric switches. Previously, the MDS 9216 was the company's low-end offering. However, the 9216 can be scaled from 16 to 32 or 48 ports and can handle multiple protocols and add-in line cards. In contrast, the 20-port 9120 and 40-port 9140 are fixed-configuration devices that support only Fibre Channel (1Gbps or 2Gbps).

The switches will compete primarily with Brocade's SilkWorm 3800 and McData's Sphereon 4500 fabric switches. Pricing will be determined by Cisco's OEMs. Hewlett-Packard is expected to ship the 9100 series switches later this month, followed by IBM and EMC next month.

According to Tom Harrington, product manager for the MDS 9000 family, Cisco plans to differentiate its switches from competitors' primarily in the richness of the feature set. Almost all of the features available on Cisco's higher-end switches (such as its Fabric Manager software and support for Virtual SANs, or VSANs) are included in the 9100 series, with the exception of multi-protocol support and services-oriented features available on add-in cards, such as IP storage services and support for virtualization and fabric-based applications.

The high-density (1U) 9100 series is targeted primarily at entry-level SANs, "edge-to-core" connectivity into larger SANs, and at companies that are beginning to migrate from direct-attached storage configurations.

Also this week, Cisco announced the 1.2 version of its SAN-OS software, which works across the company's entire line of switches--including the 9100 series. The software is included at no additional cost. A number of the new features are security-related, including the following:

--Fabric-based LUN zoning. Previously, the operating software supported only WWN and port zoning. Fabric-based LUN zoning provides an alternative to disk array-based zoning and can be advantageous in heterogeneous environments. This feature can be used in place of, or in conjunction with, LUN zoning from disk array vendors or third-party software vendors.

--Support for read-only zones, which enables a volume to be shared across different servers. Zoning is based on SCSI I/O type (read-only or read/write).

--Port-level security, which allows administrators to control which port(s) a server or storage device can connect to. Port-level security can also prevent SAN misconfigurations.

Another addition in SAN-OS 1.2 is support for "legacy switch interoperability mode," which allows MDS switches to interoperate with other vendors' switches without putting those devices in interoperability mode (which can require re-setting switches and fabrics). The qualification matrix for this feature will be determined by Cisco's OEMs (which the company now refers to as original storage manufacturers, or OSMs).

Other features introduced in SAN-OS 1.2 include VSAN-based roles (an access-control mechanism), and remote capability for Cisco's Switch Port Analyzer, called RSPAN.

The next release of SAN-OS, due by year-end, will have support for FICON. Cisco has licensed FICON control unit port (CUP) specifications from IBM.

This article was originally published on September 08, 2003