Cisco Fixes on FC Switches

Debuts 20- and 40-port MDS 9100 switches, taking on Brocade and McData in the midtier

September 9, 2003

3 Min Read
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Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) today rolled out two midrange switches -- the MDS 9120 and 9140 -- representing the next phase in its assault on the Fibre Channel market (see Cisco Intros MDS 9100 Line).

"We think we've got all the bases covered now," says Tom Harrington, product manager for the MDS 9000. "It's an area that's important for Cisco to be participating in strongly."

The main distinguishing characteristic of both the 20-port 9120 and the 40-port 9140 is that they're fixed-port configurations, designed to provide lower price-per-port than Cisco's director-class 9509 or the modular 9216 midrange switch. Other than being unable to expand their port counts (or provide IP support), the 9100 switches provide exactly the same feature set as the higher-end offerings, according to Cisco.

"The one thing we didn't want to do is shave things down where you could do some things in one fabric and not in another," Harrington says.

However, Cisco wouldn't provide any pricing for the new switches. Not even ranges or ballpark figures. The reason? According to Harrington, Cisco wants to let its OEM partners -- EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) -- set their own pricing (see Cisco Puffs Up Reseller Deals).Paul H. Mansky, an analyst with ThinkEquity Partners, says the new Cisco switches may have a disproportionate impact on Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), which is currently the market leader in Fibre Channel fabric switches.

"We believe Cisco is positioning their new fabric switch offerings to compete on a price basis with Brocade's SilkWorm 3900 and 3800, which we believe have been the company's workhorse over the past several quarters," he writes in a research note.

For McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), meanwhile, Mansky says its Sphereon 4000 series has a "meaningful bill of materials advantage" over both Brocade's and Cisco's due to use of a single application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and the ability to add capacity in four-port increments (see McData Lowers Boom on Brocade and McData Swings Switches Lower).

"Although not entirely immune should Cisco use 'account-acquisition' pricing, we believe McData's competency in director-class products and their growing share in fabric switches currently has the company at a superior long-term competitive position versus Brocade," Mansky writes.

Both the Cisco switches are one rack unit (1U) high and support both 1- and 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel connectivity. The company says customers can use the MDS 9100 series switches to build small to midsized SANs or to provide "edge-to-core" connectivity into larger SANs. The switches include integrated management tools and network services already available on the other Cisco MDS 9000 products, including Virtual SANs (VSANs), virtual output queuing, and diagnostic reporting.In addition, Cisco today rolled out version 1.2 of its MDS 9000 operating system, which includes:

  • LUN zoning, read-only zones, and port security;

  • Role-based VSAN access control;

  • Remote switched port analyzer (RSPAN), which extends the MDS 9000's switched port analyzer functionality to multiswitch environments; and

  • The ability to work in "legacy switch interoperability mode." So far, Cisco has tested this feature with Brocade switches; Harrington expects Cisco to test it with other vendors' switches running in native mode in the future.

However, the MDS switches still don't support Ficon. Cisco says the next upgrade of the SAN-OS -- due out before the end of the year -- will add support for Ficon, which Cisco is developing after licensing the Ficon control unit port (CUP) specifications from IBM.

The Cisco MDS 9100 switches are undergoing interoperability testing by EMC, HDS, HP, and IBM. Cisco says each storage vendor is expected to qualify the MDS 9100 and Cisco MDS 9000 SAN-OS 1.2 by the end of calendar year 2003. HP is expected to be the first to make the Cisco MDS 9100 available -- by the end of September -- with EMC and IBM following in early October.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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