Cisco's SAN Blast

A wee two-port storage router that costs $27,000 says a lot about where Cisco is going with SANs

April 10, 2001

3 Min Read
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PALM DESERT, Calif. -- It's all about IP and gigabit Ethernet. That was Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) mantra as it detailed its anticipated charge into the storage area networking (SAN) market, unveiling its strategy and introducing its first SAN product.

As reported first at Light Reading, Cisco has been preparing its first product and its assault on the SAN market for many months. It has made strategic acquisitions and funded startups in the area (see Ciscos Secret SAN Strategies Revealed). In fact, the general manager of Cisco's new Storage Router Business Unit, Mark Cree, is the former founder of NuSpeed, a startup Cisco acquired for roughly $450 million in July of 2000.

Officially announced here today, Cisco's first product is a two-port IP router, the SN 5420, designed to connect IP networks and Fibre Channel networks. Based on the emerging iSCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface over IP) protocol, the SN 5420 storage router has one Fibre Channel port and one gigabit Ethernet port, along with several management interfaces.

The idea is to ease storage networks onto IP networks, which could offer a lower-cost storage networking option over wider areas.

"We'll use IP to bring Cisco into the storage networking fold," says Cree, who adds that the end-goal of Cisco's intiative is to connect more SANs to Ethernet networks, and "drive the sale of more Ethernet ports. After all, what we want to do is sell more Catalyst switches."But cheap, the SN 5420 is not. Some analysts noted that its introductory cost, $27,000, seemed high for what is essentially a two-port router.

"It's not priced for the low end," said Glen Ingalls, a principal research analyst at Wit Soundview (Nasdaq: WITC). "It remains to be seen what the demand is for putting storage networks over IP. The question is what Cisco is coming out with in one to two years."

Indeed, the SN 5420 looks like a simple but crafty vehicle for entree into a larger market. A flat box the size of half a kitchen drawer, the SN 5420 could easily be shrunk into the form of a network card. For example, it might make a natural fit for, say, adding Fibre Channel to Cisco's Catalyst Ethernet switches. That would give Cisco the potential to develop large-scale combination Fibre Channel/gigabit Ethernet switches.

"Yes, we could shrink this down and make it a blade on any of our products -- and we're thinking about that," says Cree.

Indeed, as Light Reading has already reported, Cisco is working on a number of more substantial storage switches, including one project underway at an internally supported and funded company called Andiamo Systems Inc..More developments point to the collision of the still distinct IP and Fibre Channel markets: iSCSI is being developed as an open standard expected to be passed later this year. It's being widely embraced by a huge number of storage networking leaders and startups. What's to prevent Fibre Channel switching players from using iSCSI to implement their own versions of storage over IP? And likewise, what's to prevent Cisco from using iSCSI as a tool for entering -- and taking share from -- the Fibre Channel market?

The answer: Not much. In fact, Fibre Channel switching leader Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) has already hedged its strategy by announcing a new product architecture that makes the backplane of its new core switch, the Silkworm 12000, more IP friendly (see Brocade Unveils Big SAN Switch

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