Cisco launches 4Gbps director

By Kevin Komiega

Cisco began shipments to its OEMs last month of a whale of a Fibre Channel switch-the 528-port MDS 9513 Multilayer Director, with support for 4Gbps and 10Gbps Fibre Channel.

Cisco also announced SAN-OS 3.0 software, and 4Gbps and 10Gbps Fibre Channel switching modules for use in the new MDS 9513 and other MDS 9000 series switches.

Like Cisco’s other MDS 9000 switches, the MDS 9513 features full-bandwidth redundancy to help maintain system throughput in the event of a crossbar failure. The MDS 9513 includes dual supervisors, support for non-disruptive software upgrades, support for cross-module inter-switch links (ISLs) scaling to 16 ports each, and redundant hardware components.

Paul Aul, director of product marketing at Cisco, says the MDS 9513 can help users build bigger, more-efficient SANs. “One of the limiting factors for Fibre Channel SANs has been the size of the network fabric for connecting large server pools to large pools of storage,” he says. “Larger directors can support larger pools for better consolidation and more-efficient utilization of storage.”

The new director, modules, and operating system software support Cisco’s Virtual SANs (VSANs), Inter-VSAN Routing, and diagnostic and security features. New features in SAN-OS 3.0 include advanced port bandwidth management and enhanced FICON capability.

Cisco is also upping the port counts of its legacy MDS products. The MDS 9509 and 9506 now scale up to 336 ports and 192 ports, respectively.

Four auto-sensing (1Gbps/2Gbps/4Gbps) switching modules are available in 12-, 24-, and 48-port configurations. Cisco also made the leap to 10Gbps with a 4-port module for ISLs and SAN extension.

Cisco customers using any MDS 9500 series director or 9216i/9216A Multilayer Fabric Switches can also take advantage of the new modules.

A slew of storage vendors that participate in Cisco’s Original Storage Manufacturer (OSM) and Solution Technology Integrator (STI) partner programs are in the process of qualifying the new directors, modules, and software. Examples include EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Network Appliance, and Xiotech.

Breaking the 500-port barrier and adding support for 4Gbps and 10Gbps begs the question: Is bigger and faster necessarily better?

The MDS 9513 puts Cisco ahead of chief rivals Brocade and McData in terms of port counts per box, but Cisco is late to the party in terms of support for 4Gbps versus Brocade, which started shipping 4Gbps directors in August 2005. (Cisco does sell 4Gbps fabric switches via an OEM deal with QLogic.)

Users will also have to examine the issue of oversubscription in the context of their performance and port-count requirements-a source of great debate among switch vendors. (Oversubscription limits the number of ports that can actually operate at full 4Gbps speeds.)

Different paths

Brocade and McData are heading down a different architectural path than Cisco, according to Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting. Staimer says that Brocade and McData espouse a “core-to-edge” architectural philosophy while Cisco’s approach is to collapse edge switches into one director chassis. 

Cisco is building bigger directors while Brocade and McData are taking a different tack by focusing on building complementary edge switches to their core directors, as evidenced by Brocade’s recent 64-port 4Gbps switch announcement.

Brocade and McData have also been broadening their product lines to penetrate different markets. Brocade, for example, now has a wide area file services (WAFS) offering for consolidating enterprise-wide storage and branch office IT services and optimizing WAN file traffic.

Similarly, McData has a campaign called Remote Office Consolidation (ROC) to enable centralized consolidation of remote servers, storage, and other IT assets from branch offices back to the corporate data center.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2006