CNT Flings FC Far & Wide

In first offering from Inrange deal, CNT plugs CWDM card and its storage router into FC/9000

June 9, 2003

4 Min Read
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CNT (Nasdaq: CMNT), rolling out the first offering from its acquisition of Inrange Technologies, is announcing today new WAN and MAN connectivity options for the FC/9000 Fibre Channel director (see CNT Extends FC/9000 Over MAN, WAN and CNT Walks Off With Inrange).

The company claims it's the first vendor in the market to offer both MAN and WAN options in a Fibre Channel director, designed to extend storage offsite -- over virtually any distance, CNT claims -- for such applications as remote disk mirroring.

"No one else has the value-add to do true enterprise data replication," says Ed Walsh, CNT's VP of marketing and business development.

For metro-area connectivity, CNT provides a coarse wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM) card, which Inrange developed prior to the CNT acquisition, that slides into the FC/9000 chassis. CWDM, a less expensive cousin to dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), can support distances of up to about 80 km. For longer distances, the company is offering a rackmountable version of its UltraNet Edge storage router, which supports Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), FC-to-ATM, or packet-over-Sonet.

But it turns out that the CWDM card isn't really integrated at all with the FC/9000. "It just plugs into the chassis," says an ex-Inrange employee. "It doesn't actually talk through the backplane to the switch... there's not much value in it."In any event, the larger question is whether the options will help CNT differentiate its director-class FC switch amidst an increasingly rough-and-tumble market. The dominant players in this space are McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) now coming on strong with its entry into the market (see HP Moves Hard on Cisco).

Walsh, though, maintains that CNT's business model is unique among its competitors, because the company leads with consulting and integration services instead of simply selling boxes. The MAN and WAN extensions to the FC/9000 fit into that model because they allow CNT to provide customers with a full range of storage connectivity options, he says.

"It's not just about technology -- it's about our services and solutions, and that's where we're different," he says. "It's not the next gee-whiz-bang thing that customers are clamoring for, although we do think we have some gee-whiz-bang things." [Ed. note: We smell a marketing slogan here...]

He also notes that the FC/9000 provides up to 256 nonblocking 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports. The next closest major competitor is McData with its 140-port Intrepid director. Cisco's MDS 9509 allows up to 224 ports in a single system, but in this configuration the switch is oversubscribed, which means each port is unable to send data at the full line rate (see Cisco: Oversubscribed by Design).

CNT does acknowledge that some customers will always want to keep MAN and WAN connectivity separate from their SAN infrastructure. "But many are saying it makes my life easier to manage if it's integrated with the switch," Walsh says.As interest in extending SANs beyond the data center for disaster recovery applications continues to grow, optical networking players like ADVA AG Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV), Cisco, and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) are stepping up their focus on extending SANs over metro- and wide-area networks (see our report on Storage Over Optical).

But of these players, only Cisco is positioned to match CNT's ability to offer SAN, MAN, and WAN connectivity from a single supplier. Cisco's eight-port IP services module for its MDS 9509, for example, supports both iSCSI and FCIP protocols. The company also offers CWDM small form-factor pluggable optics for the switch (see Cisco Implants IP in SANs).

CNT believes it has a healthy headstart on Cisco, both in terms of providing features like data compression as well as having its SAN-extension products certified with storage systems vendors. "We have a heritage for storage extension that is completely foreign to [Cisco]," says Walsh. "Please don't think I'm insane -- Cisco is a formidable competitor. But they have some catching up to do."

Walsh adds that CNT's UltraNet Edge router is also able to extend Ficon -- a protocol for accessing mainframe storage over Fibre Channel -- over IP, ATM, and Sonet, although the company is still in the process of getting that certified with the mainframe players. Currently, Cisco's MDS family doesn't support Ficon.

The CWDM card for the FC/9000 comes in two flavors: a 16-Gbit/s 8:1 module (8 Fibre Channel ports multiplexed over one CWDM wavelength), and a 32-Gbit/s 16:2 module. CNT says customers don't need to sacrifice any FC ports to add CWDM connectivity, with a fully loaded 256-port director able to support up to eight CWDM cards. The company did not provide pricing for the cards.CNT says there are currently beta sites testing the CWDM card, but the company wouldn't name them.

As for supporting high-capacity DWDM links, CNT resells DWDM equipment from ADVA, Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), and Pandatel AG (Frankfurt: PDE). Walsh says the company is evaluating with those partners how to integrate DWDM, which can handle up to 32 wavelengths at distances up to 200 km, into its FC/9000.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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