Cisco Takes Spinnaker for a Spin

While it once mulled building NAS into Andiamo switches, Cisco has backed off this idea

February 27, 2003

4 Min Read
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About nine months ago, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) was considering incorporating NAS technology from Spinnaker Networks Inc. into its MDS 9000 series of Fibre Channel switches -- but it has since backed off this idea, sources tell Byte and Switch.

Word that Cisco had been sizing up Spinnaker comes after a similar rumor about the networking giant's dalliance with Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP). In both cases, Cisco was supposedly looking to provide an optional NAS blade for the Andiamo Systems Inc. chassis-based switches that would provide file services in front of a Fibre Channel SAN (see Cisco to Slot In NetApp?).

However, a Cisco insider says the company has abandoned any plans of incorporating NAS functions into its SAN switches. The NAS head suggestion, which was put forward by Cisco's storage technology requirements team in the field, "was categorically knocked back by the Andiamo team," because it wasn't compatible with Cisco's go-to-market strategy, says this source, who insisted on anonymity.

That may in large part have been because if Cisco did introduce a NAS blade for its FC switch family, such an offering would certainly compete with its storage partners, which currently include Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) (see Cisco Gets Set, HP Refills Its SAN Flask, and IBM Tells Cisco: 'Let's Go!'). HDS, for instance, now resells NetApp's NAS gateway, and HP's e7000 is a NAS head-end designed to sit in front of SAN storage (see HDS OEMs NetApp: Big Deal? and HP Kisses NAS, Nods to iSCSI).

Another source familiar with Spinnaker, though, confirms that Cisco put the startup through its paces about six months ago. "Cisco tested it -- and they loved it," the source says. "It did everything Spinnaker said it would: It was both CIFS [Common Internet File System] and NFS [Network File System], it had nondisruptive scaling, a global namespace, and it was stable."And because Spinnaker's NAS software is based on an off-the-shelf Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) processor, it could have easily been ported to a blade form factor, the source says. But the source notes that while "Spinnaker has great technology... technology doesn't always win."

Cisco and Spinnaker representatives declined to comment.

When Cisco launched the MDS 9000 line and announced its plans to spin in Andiamo last year, the company said the switches would eventually provide "intelligent storage services," serving as an "open platform for hosting third-party storage applications such as network-based virtualization." (See Cisco Buys Andiamo.)

So far, Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) is the only third-party software vendor that has publicly stepped forward with plans to port its software to the Andiamo platform. Otherwise, Cisco has not revealed which other applications may be in the works (see Veritas Supports Cisco MDS 9000 and Cisco Makes SAN Software Friends).

In another twist, Cisco may be downplaying this strategy because of pushback from storage systems vendors, according to an industry analyst who did not want to be identified. The storage vendors are "under the distinct impression from Cisco that [it] might drop some of these higher-layer features... in return for giving [Cisco] more shelf space," the analyst says. "There's some horse trading going on."But the Cisco insider disputes this: "There is not a snowball's chance in hell of us dropping our high-level features on the MDS platform -- in fact, the opposite is true." [Ed. note: Er... what's the opposite of a snowball's chance in hell?]

Nevertheless, Alex Arnold, an analyst at research firm Fechtor Detwiler & Co. Inc., believes the ongoing friction between Cisco and storage systems vendors will impede Cisco as it makes its debut in the Fibre Channel switch market.

"We've long wondered why the major systems and storage OEMs would 'welcome' Cisco into a large, highly profitable, and closely held market by reselling its new Andiamo switches," Arnold writes in a note issued on Tuesday. "The more we learn from our channel sources, the more we believe that we and everybody else may have overstated [Cisco's] potential impact."

Specifically, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), which has not yet qualified the MDS 9000, is extremely wary of Cisco, according to Arnold. Citing industry sources, Arnold says the issue of whether to resell the Andiamo switches is "still very much up for debate at EMC." (See EMC Holds Off on Cisco.)

"Internally, EMC views Cisco as its main competitor this decade," he writes. That may be an exaggeration, but it does encapsulate the challenge Cisco faces in realizing its goals for the storage market.Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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