McData ships 256-port backbone director

Announces CNT acquisition

By Heidi Biggar

In announcing the Intrepid i10K backbone director last month, analysts say McData not only filled a notable void in its product lineup but also took a lead position in promoting the concept of “tiered,” or “hierarchical,” storage architectures.

“Many industry observers had written McData off based on the success Brocade and Cisco have had in penetrating the director market,” says Nancy Hurley, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) consulting firm. “The release of the i10K shows that McData is truly in the game with a very competitive solution that leapfrogs the others in terms of its port count and its dynamic hard partitioning capability.”

The i10K is the long-awaited by-product of McData’s acquisition of Sanera Systems in September 2003. While the i10K may at first glance appear to be a dead ringer for the Sanera DS1000 core director, McData officials say the year-and-a-half delay in shipping the i10K was due to availability issues with the original Sanera product.

Click here to enlarge image

In addition to an industry-leading port count (256), the i10K is reportedly the first director-class product to support link distances of 190km at 10Gbps speeds, which allows users to build active-active data centers and to separate data, control, and management traffic into flexible partitions, or FlexPars, according to changing application requirements.

“This is the first step to an on-demand network,” says Michael Maxey, product marketing manager at McData. “We’ve seen partitioning at the array level, and now we’re enabling users to do it at the network level. Users can build a truly partitioned network, creating separate virtual networks for specific applications.”

By partitioning resources in this fashion, users are able to better meet specific business SLAs, while maximizing network resources. Also, because McData separates the data, control, and management traffic, errors within the network are limited to applications accessing that particular hard partition; all other applications are unaffected by the error.

“The SAN of the future must be flexible in order to meet dynamic business requirements,” writes ESG’s Hurley in a recent brief. “The network must be flexible enough to create partitions for applications, such that performance, availability, and access requirements can be easily set up according to the needs of the business.”

In addition to dynamic resource movement, which allows users to move ports within the virtual networks on-the-fly as needed, McData says the i10K’s independent code isolation and software process restart capabilities are also unique.

While tiered storage architectures are clearly not mainstream, analysts believe they are the wave of the future. “Large organizations are committed to deploying tiered storage infrastructures across their organizations,” says Rick Villars, vice president of storage systems research at International Data Corp.

By implementing directors, switches, and routers in a “tiered” manner-a premise analogous to the concept of tiered disk/tape storage or hierarchical networks in Ethernet and telecommunications infrastructures-users will reportedly be better able to match network resources to application requirements.

In the near term, McData is positioning the i10K director as an immediate fix to the SAN proliferation problem via SAN consolidation. In the longer term, the director can be viewed as a stepping-stone to utility computing, according to company officials. Directors are also available from Brocade, Cisco, and CNT (see “McData ‘Super Sizes’ with CNT acquisition,” p. 8).

This month, McData is expected to make an announcement detailing its intelligent switching road map and products. The i10K is expected to support this capability.

McData ‘Super Sizes’ with CNT acquisition

By Dave Simpson
McData last month announced its intention to acquire Computer Network Technology (CNT), which is known primarily for its WAN extension products, in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately $235 million. CNT also sells director-class switches, which it gained from its acquisition of Inrange Technologies in 2003, as well as a variety of other product lines.

McData officials say the acquisition accelerates the company’s Global Enterprise Data Center strategy, which in part, involves extending the company’s reach from SANs into MANs and WANs. And analysts agreed, saying that the main gain for McData is in CNT’s extension products, which include the UltraNet appliances and routers.

“McData gets CNT’s extension products, which are nice companion products to what McData got in its Nishan Systems acquisition,” says Steve Berg, a financial analyst with Punk, Ziegel & Company, who covers the storage market. “McData also gets a services organization and a direct sales channel.”

Berg notes that these gains may improve McData’s competitive positioning against Brocade and Cisco, but that challenges remain, including a high degree of product overlap, a lot of legacy and low-margin products from CNT, and possible backlash from some of McData’s larger OEM customers. (Common OEM customers for the two companies include Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, StorageTek, and Sun.)

Analysts say that a lot of the product overlap between the two companies lies in the two lines of director-class switches. McData has its Intrepid line (including the just-announced i10K director), while CNT sells the UltraNet Multi-service Director (UMD)-two product lines that compete with each other. McData is the market share leader in the director space.

McData officials declined to provide any information on product integration or discontinuation plans, or on how the deal will affect product road maps.

Many analysts saw the acquisition as an offensive/defensive reaction to Cisco’s increasing presence in the storage switch market, as well as a move to combat Brocade. But analysts doubted whether the acquisition will materially affect the market share standings.

In terms of revenue, Brocade has the lion’s share (49.1%) of the switch/director market, followed by McData at 28.2%, Cisco at 14.5%, QLogic at 4.7%, and CNT at only 3.2%, according to the Dell’Oro Group research firm.

If the acquisition is finalized, the combined company will have annual revenues of about $800 million.

At A Glance

McData’s i10K

General specs

  • Number of non-blocking ports: 256
  • Active bandwidth: >1TB
  • Virtual output queues: >8,000
  • Speed: 1Gbps, 2Gbps, 10Gbps
  • Rack requirement: 14U
  • Native protocol support: Fibre Channel, FICON, iSCSI

    Other capabilities

  • Dynamic network partitioning
  • Intelligent network services
  • Carrier-class availability

    This article was originally published on February 01, 2005