Cisco ships entry-level 4Gbps switch

By Kevin Komiega

Cisco is taking a crack at the small and medium-sized business (SMB) SAN market with the launch of a new entry-level, 4Gbps fabric switch as part of its MDS family of storage networking products.

Unlike the lower-end fabric switches that Cisco OEMs from QLogic, the new switch is based solely on Cisco technology.

The MDS 9124 Multilayer Fabric Switch is an entry-level device packed with security services, support for Cisco’s Virtual SAN (VSAN) architecture, and a “pay-as-you-grow” pricing model.

Actual pricing will be set by Cisco’s partners, some of which have already begun shipments of the new switch. Those partners include vendors such as Dell, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Network Appliance, Sun, and Xiotech.

Based on the same SAN OS software used in Cisco’s larger director-class products, the MDS 9124 is positioned as a fit for SMBs, departmental SANs, or core-edge enterprise SANs.

The MDS 9124 starts with eight active Fibre Channel ports and can scale up to 24 ports in a 1U form factor. Ports are added through a port-activation license.

“Enterprise-class features are becoming as important for SMBs as they are for enterprise customers, including features such as business continuity, disaster recovery, high availability, and security,” says Rajeev Bhardwaj, director of product management for Cisco’s Data Center Business Unit.

According to Cisco, provisioning and affordability have historically been the biggest obstacles for smaller companies trying to migrate from direct-attached to networked storage. Bhardwaj says the MDS 9124 addresses those problems with simple management and a reasonable price tag.

“If you have to configure SAN services you have to worry about things like worldwide names and HBA target ports. It becomes a fairly involved process. Setting up the MDS 9124 is a three-step process,” Bhardwaj claims.

Arch-rival Brocade claims that Cisco is attempting to play catch-up in the race to offer 4Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity to smaller customers and maintains that its experience in the entry-level SAN switching market and wide range of customers will keep Brocade atop the market. Brocade introduced 4Gbps switches more than two years ago. But, regardless of which company leads the way, competition should mean lower prices for end users.

Some analysts believe the MDS 9124 is more of an enterprise product than a pure SMB SAN switch.

“The 9124 makes sense in the enterprise as an edge connection to existing SANs, especially for MDS users since it uses the same SAN operating system and has advanced features like VSANs built-in,” says Brian Garrett, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. “It is bound to do well in that market, especially for affordable edge connectivity to blade servers and clusters.”

Garrett adds that Cisco’s entry into the SMB market serves as a wake-up call to competitors. “The 9124 is built around a single chip, so Cisco can be really aggressive on pricing at the low-end in 8-port, single power-supply configurations,” says Garrett.

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But having the right product is only half the battle. The real challenge for Cisco in the SMB market, according to Garrett, is the channel.

“For SANs to really take off in the SMB market, customers need integrated solutions with storage, switches, and HBAs in easy-to-configure boxes. Cisco has solutions and partnerships along these lines already that will need to be upgraded so that Cisco can better compete against Brocade and QLogic,” says Garrett.

This article was originally published on January 01, 2007