Sanera Turns On the Juice

Startup claims its mega-switch delivers more than 2x the throughput of Brocade, Cisco, or McData

April 12, 2003

6 Min Read
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Startup Sanera Systems Inc. is claiming it has the biggest, baddest, smartest, and fastest Fibre Channel switch on the market -- and says it can prove it.

The company says independent testing shows that its still-in-beta DS10000 director switch provides 2.3 times the aggregate throughput performance of its nearest competitor, Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) MDS 9509. The startup commissioned the test from Miercom, a network systems testing company in Princeton Junction, N.J.

However, Sanera was not able to provide the actual test results yet, saying they'll be ready in a few weeks. A Miercom representative tells Byte and Switch those test results are confidential and that in order to release them, it would require written permission from Sanera.

Last fall, Cisco claimed its MDS 9500 switches were able to sustain full 2-Gbit/s wire speeds across 112 ports in laboratory tests. Based on that, Sanera seems to be asserting that one of its fully loaded, 256-port 2-Gbit/s FC switches can sustain full throughput across all ports, which -- if true -- would easily outpace systems from Cisco, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), or McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) (see Cisco Busts FC Benchmark).

"We are, hands down, the highest-throughput switch," says Patrick Harr, VP of marketing and business development at Sanera. "The only one we see coming close to us over time is Cisco."A sales executive at one of Sanera's potential competitors dismisses the claims as the hype of an overeager startup. "Miercom," he sneers, "will take anyone's money." And, industry observers note, tests can be rigged to favor the characteristics of a certain vendor's system, and such variables as frame size and host configuration can greatly affect the results of any benchmark test.

But at least one analyst believes Sanera [ed. note: not to be confused with upscale bakery-caf chain Panera] is the real deal.

"Overall, the combination of the features on the Sanera DS10000 introduces a new level of performance, scalability, and flexibility that we have not seen from any other vendor, including McData, Cisco, or Brocade," wrote Nancy Marrone, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc., in a research note last month.

Sanera put the DS10000 in early beta trials in early January and is now starting a more formal beta process. Harr would not name its beta sites but says they include companies in the financial services, technology, and airline industries.

The startup is pursuing OEM (original equipment manufacturer) channels exclusively, and it's trying to negotiate deals with the large storage and systems vendors. "We have had very strong interest from key OEM targets," Harr says. "They see a lot of the value we can drive for the enterprise." He expects Sanera to announce OEM wins this summer. Pricing for the DS10000 will be set by OEMs, but Harr says it will be "extremely competitive."Last year, CNT (Nasdaq: CMNT) was rumored to be one of Sanera's initial OEM customers. However, earlier this week, CNT acquired Fibre Channel director vendor Inrange Technologies Corp. (Nasdaq: INRG), which also sells a 256-port switch -- calling into question whether CNT would still be interested in OEMing the Sanera switch (see CNT Walks Off With Inrange).

Sanera's 256-port, 2-Gbit switch fits into a 14U-high chassis. The company says it natively supports 1-, 2-, or 10-Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports, as well as 1- or 10-Gbit/s Ethernet running iSCSI today. Harr says customers would most likely use the 10-Gig ports as interswitch links (ISLs). Each 32-port line card features "port paddle" daughter cards -- either 8-port 2-Gbit/s or 2-port 10-Gbit/s modules -- which allows customers to expand incrementally as well as mix and match speeds. The switch has a nonblocking crossbar architecture and uses Sanera's proprietary application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to handle port processing.

The switch also provides what Sanera has dubbed "nScale Dynamic Partitioning." This is similar to Cisco's Virtual SAN feature, which allows multiple virtual fabrics to run on a common physical infrastructure (see Cisco's VSANs: Hype or Innovation?).

But Sanera claims Dynamic Partitioning goes several steps beyond VSANs, because it separates the control and the management functions of different partitions. "Cisco has one software stack, and that's virtualized," says Harr. "We have multiple software stacks." Another difference with Dynamic Partitioning is that when administrators log into the management application, they see multiple virtual directors and each one can be set with its own access privileges. The partitions are "dynamic" because ports can be reallocated to different applications as needed.

Next week, Sanera expects to roll out a two-pronged partner program. First, it has signed up several SAN software vendors -- including CreekPath Systems Inc., InterSAN Inc., and Fujitsu Software Technology Corp. (Softek) -- which will be developing to Sanera's application programming interface (API) based on the Common Information Model (CIM).The startup will also announce that Incipient Inc., FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC), and StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd. are porting their software to work with its storage services API. Sanera's storage services are available as Linux libraries that let developers tap the switch's hardware features for data-movement-intensive applications, according to Harr.

So how does Sanera intend to compete with larger, more-established players -- chief among them Cisco?

Harr says Sanera has the same opportunity to challenge Cisco that Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) did in the core router market. "It fundamentally comes to having the best product and having something that meets customers' key requirements. It's been proven in the past that customers always want a second choice."

He adds that Sanera "didn't have the legacy of the [Cisco] Catalyst switching technology," which Andiamo Systems Inc. (Cisco's in-house SAN switch "startup") used in developing the MDS 9000-series switches. "We built our platform from the ground up."

The company, founded in August 2000, has raised $65.3 million in funding to date. Based in Sunnyvale, Calif., Sanera has a total of 84 employees, 71 of which are engineering and operations. The company trimmed 20 percent of its staff last fall, a step executives said was necessary as Sanera started bringing the product to market (see Sanera Tightens Its Belt and Sanera Guns for Brocade).The turnover at the startup included the departure of founder Sudhakar Muddu and VP of engineering Dan Maltbie, who was hired in May 2002. Its engineering team is now headed by Raj Cherrabudi, one of the company's three founders. The other founder, Joe Chamdani, is VP of systems integration and reports to Cherrabudi (see Sanera Founder Says Sayonara).

— Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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