Cisco Readies Multiprotocol Switch

Launches new multiprotocol switch, IP services card, and software to enhance SAN extension UPDATED 9/20 6PM

September 18, 2004

3 Min Read
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CHICAGO -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) beefed up its SAN extension capabilities today by rolling out a new multiprotocol switch, IP services card and management software at Storage Decisions.

As reported in Byte and Switch Friday, Cisco announced its MDS 9216i switch to take better advantage of the new multiprotocol services. The 9216i and the new MDS Multiprotocol Services Module have 14 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. Users can configure the GigE ports to support Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP) or iSCSI.

Cisco's SAN-OS 2.0 software includes support for hardware-based compression and IPSec encryption, extended FC buffer credits, and FCIP tape accleration.

The three products together are designed to improve Cisco's SAN extension performance. The card is the first from Cisco that integrates FC, FCIP, and iSCSI. Cisco's previous IP cards inlcude either four or eight GigE ports and no FC ports. Ed Chapman, Cisco's senior director of product mangement for the MDS 9200, says the four- and eight-port cards are still available, but the new modules offer greater flexibility and better compression.

"A lot of users didn't need that many GigE ports," Chapman says. "And we used software compression, which isn't as good at high speeds as the hardware compression."The new IP services card also works with Cisco's other modular directors and switches.

Chapman says he expects the switch, module, and software to be qualified by at least two of its OEM partners by mid-December. EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) are Cisco's main storage system OEMs.

Cisco will continue to seel the MD 9216 as a small core or midrange edge FC switch.

How does Cisco's new switch stack up with gear from rivals Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Computer Network Technology Corp. (CNT) (Nasdaq: CMNT), and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA)? An industry insider with knowledge of the switches says Cisco's 9216i will probably outperform its rivals in most WANs that extend more than 250 miles and/or have packet loss of 0.1 percent or more.

However, any technology advantage Cisco enjoys with its new switch might be offset by a higher price. Cisco says pricing information will come from its OEMs, but sources say Cisco switches will sell at a hefty premium -- perhaps as much as 30 percent over competing offerings from Brocade and McData.McData and Brocade brought out new multiprotocol routers that are used for SAN extension earlier this year, and both companies report brisk sales so far (see McData Stays Out of the Red and Brocade Ships Multiprotocol Router). McData launched the Eclipse 1620 based on technology acquired from Nishan, and it is expected to add an Eclipse router that supports 2-Gbit/s FC speeds later this year (see EMC, McData Make a Connectrix); the 1620 only runs at 1 Gbit/s. Brocade brought out its multiprotocol router in June based on technology it acquired from Rhapsody (see Brocade Users Want to Route).

At least one financial analyst doubts that Cisco's new switch can slow the momentum McData and Brocade have built with their multiprotocol devices.

"The [Cisco] switches are expensive," analyst Kaushik Roy of Susquehanna Financial Group wrote in a research note Friday. "While the IP services are definitely attractive to customers for SAN interconnects and routing, we believe customers will continue to choose McData and Brocade in the near future because of the price points."

But Roy says the extra competition certainly can't help CNT, which is already struggling to stay competitive (see Swedish Cable Operator Picks Siemens).

Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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