Nortel Lights Up Storage Networks

The company discovers that half the traffic running across its Optera metro platform has been storage-related!

June 15, 2001

4 Min Read
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Nortel Networks Corp.'s (NYSE/Toronto: NT) response to the storage networking boom has been about as noticeable as a fly in a hurricane, especially next to Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO)recent explosion onto this scene.Then again, Cisco doesnt have Nortel’s enviable position in the optical world, which has provided Nortel with a ready-made market for storage networking.

Nortel discovered recently that about half of the traffic run across its Optera metro platform has been storage-related. Unfortunately, this wasn’t all through its own sales of the product, but via an OEM deal with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM).

Nortel reckons about a hundred large enterprises are using the IBM-branded Optera metro box for connecting storage over private lines.

For about a year, IBM has been rebranding the Optera metro platform, called the FiberSaver 2029, and selling it to its storage customers to connect Escon- and Ficon-based storage devices over fiber networks.

IBM realized its brand in optical wasn’t as strong as Nortel’s and is now reselling the Optera Metro rather than rebranding it.This awoke Nortel’s enthusiasm for the market, according to Peter Evans, VP of marketing, metro optical and optical Ethernet at Nortel. “We are just starting to take the covers off our strategy, which is a play for bundled services,” he says.

The first of these is a deal with EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). About a month ago the two firms signed a sales, marketing, testing, and validation agreement and demonstrated the early stages of some integration work between their products at Supercomm 2001. (see Nortel, EMC to Demo SAN Solution)

“We showed a reasonable degree of interoperability” in Nortel’s booth, says Bill Nelson, VP of content and info center markets at EMC. The company demonstrated EMC’s Symmetrix enterprise storage system and Symmetrix Remote Data Facility software running with Nortel’s Optera Smart Agent and Optera metro platform to establish optical connections on demand and replicate content across a wide-area network.

”Nortel has the dominant share of the optical market, which is where we see EMC’s technology coming into play for wide-area storage networking,” says Nelson. “If we can optically link EMC’s storage systems, it offers managed service providers another service to sell and large enterprises a way to connect their storage over private lines.”

The Optera DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) gear is bit-rate and protocol independent, meaning it can handle all the current storage protocols, including Fibre Channel and, from the IBM mainframe world, Escon and Ficon.Nortel is aware of the emerging iSCSI (SCSI over Internet) protocol and has been loosely involved in its development but is waiting to see what happens when it is ratified later this year. It’s not surprising the company hasn’t thrown its weight behind iSCSI, as support for this protocol helps Cisco’s drive to transfer storage networking over to IP. Soon, however, not supporting iSCSI may not be an option for Nortel, if the momentum towards the IP-SAN protocol continues at its current pace.

Nortel argues that most of the demand today for storage networking is coming from mainframe customers using EMC Symmetrix storage systems, with vast amounts of the data residing in huge SAP or Oracle databases. And right now all these systems run on Fibre Channel networks, not IP.

Which is fair enough, but many enterprises are also looking to extend the reach of their storage area networks across large geographic areas and to consolidate their storage into "information pools," and this is very expensive using Fibre Channel extensions, such as Escon and Ficon.

The deal with EMC is not exclusive. “Expect plenty more like it,” says Evans, as the company moves towards a strategy of partnering with the leading players in certain fields. It recently did a deal with

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) to bundle its optical switches with Microsoft’s dot.NET servers and software to provide data centers and IXCs with a Web-hosting package.

Leveraging the EMC deal, Nortel also hopes to sell its Clarify customer relationship management software to service providers as an application to sell across the system. The two partners have tested Clarify running over an optical networked storage infrastructure as one example of managed services and applications that can benefit from the setup.Nelson says the challenge EMC and Nortel face now is creating tighter integration at the management level. “Nortel’s Preside and Optera Smart Agent platforms provide “elaborate billing and network management capabilities, and our [EMC] tools must be integrated under this broader suite."

Rather than having two distinct management systems, he said the aim is to eventually have one that can see right into the EMC storage systems from the network management software. This will give service providers the flexibility to offer storage management on demand, he said.

Nortel, of course, is offering no roadmap of when the integration of both companies' management systems is likely to happen, leaving the relationship, in Nelson’s own words, as no more than a “reasonable degree of interoperability.”

Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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