By Heidi Biggar
Sandial, a start-up in Portsmouth, NH, last month formally introduced its 14000 Storage Backbone Switch. The company began initial shipments in October and claims more than 20 customers, including New Balance, First Data, and Wide Horizon.
The 14000 switch will compete in part with high-end intelligent switches/directors from vendors such as Brocade, Cisco, Maranti, MaXXan, and McData. However, Sandial may have some differentiators versus the other players.
"One difference is that Sandial focuses on network performance and performance-level quality of service [QoS], while the other vendors provide storage services [e.g., replication, mirroring, snapshots, volume management, etc.]," says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group (ESG).
Last year, leading switch vendors and a couple of start-ups announced plans to develop intelligent switches capable of running storage services, and several (e.g., Cisco, MaXXan, and Maranti) began shipping first-generation products.
While running storage services in the network has many potential benefits, including the ability to centralize and consolidate storage management and provisioning, easily replicate data among heterogeneous disk arrays, and possibly reduce operation and management costs, it does little—if anything—to address performance issues between applications and storage resources, says Marrone-Hurley.
"Cisco's switches can do some level of traffic QoS, but only on inter-switch links (ISLs), not port by port like Sandial. And Maranti has some performance-level QoS, but it's done with caching—not dynamic caching allocation," says Marrone-Hurley. "In addition, the Sandial switch can re-configure connections on-the-fly, which essentially enables bandwidth on-demand."
As Marrone-Hurley points out, the 14000 not only provides visibility into the storage network and identifies and diagnoses potential bandwidth contention issues, but it also moves bandwidth among applications and resources on-the-fly as needed.
"Our goal is to align IT resources with business priorities [in the form of the applications] and to guarantee the performance of those applications," says Michael Welts, executive vice president of marketing at Sandial.
By building a "storage network backbone" that connects and aligns application performance with storage resources, Sandial officials say companies will be able to turn storage area networks (SANs) into true strategic business assets. Today, he argues, SANs are typically built on an application-by-application basis, which generally means users end up with a lot of non-communicating SAN islands with performance and utilization issues.
"Switch performance is not an issue, but fabric performance is—and that has a lot to do with the architecture and the random nature of bandwidth demands," says Marrone-Hurley. "Sandial can help overcome fabric configuration issues and traffic demand/performance requirements on-the-fly."
The 14000 switch consists of three building blocks: connectivity, intelligence, and management. Features include n+1 redundancy, 288 ports, 14 connectivity slots, redundant ConnectIQ switch modules, and UtiliPort Modules that enable support for multiple protocols (e.g., Fibre Channel, Ethernet, iSCSI) and speeds (e.g., 1/2/4/10Gbps Fibre Channel).
The switch intelligence lies in Connect-IQ software that runs on modules. The software monitors the network environment and makes sure that applications get the bandwidth they need according to administrator-set policies.
ShadowView management software allows users to create application policy groups (APGs). Administrators first assign switch ports to various APGs and then set bandwidth policies (i.e., minimum performance requirements) between these groups.
In these situations, the connections deemed "business priorities" are guaranteed a certain minimum level of performance (e.g., 100MBps), while non-policy-based connections (or non-priority applications) are subject to standard default service levels (i.e., whatever is left over). For example, as shown in the figure on p. 8, policy-based connection C-D may have allocated to it a minimum 100MBps, while non-policy-based connections A-D and B-D share the leftover bandwidth.
In other architectures, these connections are treated in a "fair and equal" way, meaning that bandwidth would be divided equally among all connections regardless of application requirements or business priorities.
Implementing a "storage network backbone" guarantees performance levels for certain applications and also helps users consolidate their storage/server environments and optimize SAN utilization, according to Sandial officials. Pricing for the switch was not available at press time.