Ed Chapman, VP, Product Management, Data Center Business, Cisco Systems

"We are here for the long run, and we're continuing to make new investments in that area."

March 29, 2006

8 Min Read
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After three years in the storage business, Cisco is not ready to throw in the towel.

Instead, Cisco storage VP Ed Chapman insists the company is as serious as ever about storage. Chapman says talk that Cisco is losing interest in storage is unfounded. (See Cisco Distracted?)

There’s no credence to that,” he says. “We are here for the long run, and we're continuing to make new investments in that area.”

Since getting into storage, Cisco has had decidedly mixed results. It has taken enough market share to make rivals McData and Brocade feel the pinch a bit, but has hardly steamrolled the competition. Cisco's storage revenues remain inconsistent as it strives to build momentum.

While Cisco has made strategic decisions to widen its storage presence in areas such as WAFS, virtualization, and InfiniBand, it appears to be lagging in its Fibre Channel switch progress. (See Cisco Acts on Actona, Cisco Chomps FineGround, and Cisco Topspins Into Virtualization.) There's still no sign of its 4-Gbit/s director, the Cisco MDS 9513, more than six months after Brocade started shipping one. There’s also been a brain drain, with a bunch of the executives who played a major role in developing the Andiamo switches that formed the basis of Cisco's storage offering having moved on. (See Cisco Names Data Chief, Cisco 4-Gbit Director MIA, and Andiamo Vets Go 'Nuova'.)We recently spoke with Chapman, who has been promoted to VP of product management for Cisco’s data center business unit, about the state of Cisco's SAN switching business.

Figure 1: Ed Chapman, VP of Product Management, Data Center Business Unit, Cisco Systems Inc.

Byte and Switch: There's been a lot of speculation lately that Cisco is losing interest or considering getting out of Fibre Channel SAN storage. Is there anything to that?

Chapman: There's no credence to that. Cisco has been investing heavily in Fibre Channel SAN storage. We have invested a huge amount of resources building out a lab and spent something like $30 million or more in the lab to test and run our Fibre Channel infrastructure. We have more than 300 people whose main job and purpose is to build Fibre Channel infrastructure products. We continue to sign new partners – we recently signed Dell. We are here for the long run, and we're continuing to make new investments in that area.

Byte and Switch: How much has the loss of Andiamo executives Mario Mazzola, Luca Cafiero, Prem Jain, and Soni Jiandani hurt Cisco?Chapman: [Former Andiamo executives] Tom Edsall and Buck Gee are still here. Tom was VP of engineering and Buck was president of Andiamo. If you go many years back, Tom was with Mario and Luca at Crescendo Communications. (See Crescendo Corps Soars at Cisco.) Since then, Tom as been the technical lead in the Catalyst 5000, 6000, and MDS product families. If you're going to look at continuity in terms of technical leadership, Tom Edsall is the man; he's been the driving force as far as the technical aspect of those platforms.

Storage is a huge entry for Cisco into the data center. You have servers that attach via IP to the outside world, then services on top of that, and you tie it to storage through the MDS product. Jayshree Ullal, the senior VP of our data center unit, reports directly to John Chambers. Jayshree is responsible for Ethernet switching, security, infrastructure, and the server virtualization business unit, which is the VFrame software and InfiniBand technology that people use in high-performance computing and server clusters. (See Cisco Topspins Into Virtualization.)

From a networking perspective, we see the data center as a place where Cisco can tie these elements together. Is Fibre Channel and SAN storage strategic to Cisco? It absolutely is. Customers talk about storage architecture as a key to their overall network infrastructure.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Byte and Switch: Is Cisco happy with its storage business?Chapman: We are happy so far. Depending on who you believe, we're No. 1 or No. 2 in the director space. Overall, we're 20 percent of the Fibre Channel switch space. We put most of our energy into the director space because it was a great opportunity for us to leverage our strengths in building out large infrastructures.

We'll continue to focus our efforts in that arena. But we are investing in technology in other segments outside of the director space. As we go forward, we expect to participate in the [SAN] market as a whole.

Byte and Switch: Does Cisco still see storage as an eventual $1 billion business, as John Chambers forecast in 2003? (See Storage: A Cisco Billion Dollar Play.)

Chapman: I don't think anything has changed. If we execute well we can achieve that, as long as the market expands. We're bullish in terms of what we bring into the market and the success we've had. After three years in the market, given our success so far, we'll continue to grow and we can reach $1 billion. We'll grow as big as the market allows us to grow."

Byte and Switch: What challenges did Cisco face when getting into storage, especially in working with storage vendors EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM to sell your products? (See Cisco Puffs Up Reseller Deals, HP Moves Hard on Cisco, LightPointe Debuts Enterprise FSO, and EMC Holds Off on Cisco.)Chapman: There were challenges and lessons learned. A lot of startups have tried to penetrate the market without going through channels, and they haven't been too successful. A lot of them are no longer with us. (See QLogic Picks Up Troika, Clock Ticks on Maranti, Candera's Closed, and Sandial's Out.)

Cisco had to learn this market is different than other markets we're in, and we had to work with staff such as channel managers who work closely with partners. It's different than what Cisco has in other product lines. As an organization, we had to set up things operationally that weren't consistent with the way we go to market with other solutions.

That was challenging for Cisco. And challenging for our partners in working with us. They weren't sure what we were going to do in this space. We're significantly larger than our competitors in this space and they [storage systems vendors] had worries that we might go direct. We learned quite a bit going through other companies' QA organizations. That added to our products' quality. We learned to partner with these guys. Their fears that we would deal directly with customers have not come true.

Now, we certainly leveraged relationships with customers to drive a preference for Cisco storage. And customers had a way they liked to work with us. But we've been successful in following a normal acquisition process within the storage infrastructure.

Byte and Switch: There’s still a fear – or at least an expectation – that Cisco will eventually sell its storage switches directly. Do you see this happening?We've established the distribution mechanisms to continue down this path [with partners]. I don't envision it will change soon. If anything changes, it may come from our partners rather than us. It's maybe something our partners want to look at.

Byte and Switch: Why would they do that?

Chapman: When Fibre Channel was in its infancy, it required making sure that this HBA talked to this switch, and this switch talked to this array and had this level of firmware here, this level of firmware there. Fibre Channel has matured over time. It's probably at least a ten-year-old technology now. The sort of issues we saw in the past don't exist anymore. There may be a better way of doing things. Maybe they think the cost is too high from a certification/qualification standpoint. As any technology matures, you'll find these things tend to work better as technology gets better.

But we don't envision any changes right now in our distribution.

Byte and Switch: What is the status of the MDS 9513?Chapman: We don't normally talk about unannounced products.

Byte and Switch: Is Cisco late with 4-Gbit/s directors? Did you misread the 4-Gbit/s adoption rate?

Chapman: We're supportive of 4-gig technology. We're telling customers they can leverage the investments they made in our directors and fabric switches. The open slots in our switches have the capability to support 4-gig when we introduce it. Essentially, we've gone ahead and told our customers that we've built systems so we could upgrade them to new technology without having to upgrade the chassis. This would be a software upgrade and new line card that incorporates the technology without them having to rip out their infrastructure.

Byte and Switch: When will that be possible?

Chapman: We don't normally talk about unannounced products.— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA)

  • QLogic Corp.

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