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Switching Gears

Fibre Channel SAN switching has taken some twists this year, with long- and short-term implications

What does this all mean? First, that Cisco is still committed to Fibre Channel storage -- a notion many people doubted nine months ago. (See Cisco Distracted?.) Besides the MDS 9124, Cisco promises its first Fibre Channel blade server switches next year for Hewlett-Packard and IBM blade servers. (See Cisco Teams With IBM, HP.)

Second, even when Brocade fades out McData products, customers will still have several valid choices in each product line. They can choose between Brocade, Cisco, and QLogic gear in the director, fabric switch, and blade switch segments.

For the record, Brocade says it will continue to sell and support McData's products, so there will actually be four vendors selling directors and fabric switches. But that's a temporary situation at best. In a couple of years when 4-gig Fibre Channel gives way to 8-gig or perhaps 10-gig, Brocade will have one product platform.

Among this shift, there is reason for customers to give thanks this week ('tis the week for giving thanks, after all). They could find switch pricing favorable to them in the coming months. When the Brocade-McData deal was announced, there was a fear that having a Brocade-Cisco duopoly would raise switch prices in the face of less competition. Now it looks like the opposite is true, for the short term at least.

McData already showed it is willing to deal. Last quarter it increased revenue while losing money -- a strong hint that it dropped prices to make deals. (See McData Finishes With a Flourish.) Now Cisco lauds its new switch as price-competitive -- something you don't hear often from Cisco -- and QLogic is pinning its director hopes on a strong pricing advantage. Brocade won't have much choice but to keep its prices low, too. And Cisco's entry into blade switches alongside Brocade and QLogic puts three strong competitors there for the first time.

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