QLogic Stacks SMB Deck

Small, modular SANs are key to the future of Fibre Channel, vendor says UPDATED 4PM

February 3, 2004

4 Min Read
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QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) today unveiled a 10-Gbit/s SAN product geared to making the term "entry-level Fibre Channel switch" less of an oxymoron in the storage industry (see QLogic Launches SANbox, SANtrack).

Qlogic calls the SANbox 5200, announced earlier this year (see QLogic Gets Stacked) but generally available now, a stackable Fibre Channel switch akin to the stackable Ethernet switches that debuted a decade ago from the likes of networking vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS). Qlogic's aiming to provide storage administrators with the same kind of low-cost box that can be augmented in modular fashion.

Qlogic's SANbox is a fixed-port switch that comes in 4-, 8-, 12-, or 16-port versions, each of which can be stacked together to operate as one 64-port switch. All ports are auto-detecting 1- to 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel. Prices start at $5,795 for an 8-port configuration. Qlogic's added software that enables wizard setup to further ease of installation.

Qlogic is also offering a full 10-Gbit/s link between switches -- something not offered by other FC switch vendors just yet, including Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Cisco, and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA). That's expected to change by midyear, when both Cisco and McData expect to have their 10-Gbit/s products out. Brocade says it's also moving toward 10-Gbit/s but hasn't given a date.

Figure 1: SANbox 5200 in 64-port configuration. Source: Qlogic

The concept of stackability may be trendy, but the idea of small SMB-attractive SANs isn't new. Indeed, Qlogic's announcement adds to the ongoing efforts of storage networking vendors, Qlogic included, to make Fibre Channel gear more accessible to small enterprises and even small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which traditionally have eschewed its cost and complexity.

In November, Qlogic released a "SAN starter kit" program through an equipment bundling deal with Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) (see QLogic Bundles Up With HP). The idea was to attract SMBs to Fibre Channel by selling easy-to-install kits of equipment and software through OEMs. Competitor Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX) also adopted this strategy with the release of new HBAs and 4-Gbit/s embedded switches for OEM use (see Fibre Channel: HBA Hog Heaven).

There also has been a flurry of activity in the so-called midtier SAN market. Back in September, Cisco released the MDS 9100, a 20- and 40-port fixed-port SAN switch geared for these smaller-than-enterprise applications (see Cisco Fixes on FC Switches).

There's good reason for getting onboard with SMBs now: Storage consolidation and data management are causing growth in the low-end segment (see Charles Stevens, Corporate VP, Enterprise Storage Division, Microsoft Corp.), and vendors are eager to convert new users to the virtues of Fibre Channel, rather than lose them to emerging IP-based solutions.

Not everyone thinks stackable is the way to go. "Stackable technology is an interesting idea, but it didn't provide market leadership to the Ethernet switch vendors," says Jay Kidd, CTO of transport services at Brocade. He says Brocade already offers an 8-port switch, the SilkWorm 3200, which he says is sold by OEMs for less than the price quoted above for Qlogic's stackable 8-port.Kidd says Brocade continues to mull options for meeting the low end of the market, a point backed up by a recent presentation in which a Brocade exec touted the advantages of the low-end market (see Brocade & McData's Paths Diverge). Kidd does not mention that a smaller, cheaper switch, code-named Dazzler, is reputed to be in line for spring release, and could provide some additional competition.

Qlogic VP of marketing Frank Berry expects competition to heat up quickly. "This represents a product of which you'll see many in the future," he remarks. He expects FC switch vendors to get out smaller fixed-port stackables by the end of the year.

The result, in Qlogic's view, will be a growth in FC SAN connectivity commensurate with that of IP-based solutions. "You'll see Fibre Channel and 1-Gbit/s Ethernet iSCSI kits selling for about the same price," Berry asserts.

Who will win? "That's tough to say," Berry maintains. "Qlogic believes there's incredible gravitational pull from IP over the long period." Short term, he says, FC will continue to rule the SAN roost. Clearly, that goes for whether a customer is large or small.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch0

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