Sandial Switch Surfaces

Startup's bid for SAN attention comes from FC bandwidth control UPDATED 2/19 3:30PM

February 19, 2004

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Startup Sandial Systems Inc. has released its first product and clarified its strategy, months after its originally planned launch date. And the company's approach to Fibre Channel SANs is likely to be provocative.

Sandial's Shadow 14000 Storage Backbone Switch uses time-division multiplexing to regulate the actual bandwidth assigned to specific applications in a Fibre Channel network.

Sandial's nonblocking switch supports 144 Fibre Channel interfaces at 2 Gbit/s; it can be enhanced to support double that number, Sandial says. A menu provides a way for mangers to schedule the minimum and maximum amount of bandwidth allotted to a given application.

This week's announcement is the first big blast from Sandial since its initial flurry of publicity in May 2003 (see Sandial Clocks In). Sandial says it has more than 20 customers for its product in North America and Europe. Right now, the company is working on a new round of funding, attempting to raise about $20 million. It's already raised roughly $60 million.

The idea of guaranteeing SAN performance isn't new. SAN congestion control is often a feature touted by vendors of virtualization products, many of which claim to address a key problem in Fibre Channel networks: namely, that performance degradation in one portion of a SAN fabric slows down all connections.What's different about Sandial, compared with some other solutions, is that the vendor is manipulating network traffic flows directly, instead of solving Fibre Channel bottlenecks by configuring the various endpoints, such as specific hosts and arrays, to perform better in a SAN.

"Sandial has nothing to do with virtual links," says Rick Villars, VP of storage systems at IDC. Instead, the vendor is applying a quality-of-service model that works in types of network different from the world of Fibre Channel.

That's no surprise, given that most Sandial execs hail from networking backgrounds: CEO Tim Lieto (Chipcom, Data General, Prominet, and Lucent), EVP of marketing Michael Welts (Cabletron, Bay Networks), VP of engineering Bill Proulx (Cabletron), and chief architect John Moores (MIT Lincoln Laboratory).

Sandial's strategy has its risks. It's entering a particularly competitive market dominated by Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC). Many of these vendors are at work on their own SAN bandwidth management solutions.

Indeed, Sandial's biggest competition could come from Cisco, which has several bandwidth management features in its MDS 9000, including a quality-of-service option for a range of SAN traffic types that was added in a software upgrade in December 2003.Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) also has worked with Cisco to add performance improvement functions to the MDS series (see Veritas Finally Delivers on Cisco). Veritas is working with other switch vendors to add its software to their products, and it is said to be working on a load-balancing capability that uses special algorithms to balance I/O between servers and storage devices to improve SAN performance.

There are other products that purport to solve FC bandwidth snafus in other ways. Other newcomers to the Fibre Channel director market, such as Maranti Networks Inc., MaXXan Systems Inc., and Sanera Systems Inc., say they too have special features for managing performance in multivendor SANs (see Maranti Makes It to Market, 2003 Top Ten: Mergers & Acquisitions), and Wisdom of Smart Switch Questioned). Appliances from Candera Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), also boast the ability to create virtual SANs out of multivendor storage gear and provide ways to track performance and fix bottlenecks.

At least one analyst thinks Sandial faces problems beyond competition, because IT managers hate adding unknown vendors to the live network running business applications, be that network a SAN or otherwise. "Sandial's putting themselves in the path of a company's lifeblood," says analyst David Freund of Illuminata Inc.

To establish credibility, Sandial will need to prove it can be a solid SAN citizen, Freund says. That won't be easy. Still, a Sandial spokesman says the company's already tested its wares with Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and plans ongoing tests of interoperability with other vendors' gear as well.

Figure 1: Sandial Shadow 14000

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights