Cisco Flaunts Fancy SAN Features

SAN-OS 1.3 adds Ficon support and VSAN routing - but you'll have to pay extra to get them

November 19, 2003

4 Min Read
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Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has upgraded the operating system for its MDS 9000 series of Fibre Channel switches, but customers will have to pay extra for many of the enhanced features.

The software features are available through the Cisco MDS 9000 SAN-OS 1.3, the latest version of the platforms operating system. New in this version are support for Ficon, a mainframe storage networking protocol; routing among multiple Virtual SANs (VSANs); the ability to set quality of service (QOS) prioritization on SAN traffic; and enhanced Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) capabilities.

However, none of these particular features will be available in the "baseline" offering. Following common industry practice, Cisco -- or, more precisely, its reseller partners -- will charge users extra for the Ficon, VSAN routing, FCIP, and QOS features.

Rajeev Bhardwaj, product manager for the Cisco MDS 9000, explains that not every customer needs high-end features like support for Ficon protocols, which is why they're sold separately.

And to be fair, Cisco's primary competitors in this market, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), similarly for charge extra for additional software features such as security.Conveniently, though, Cisco has no pricing information for the enhanced feature sets, since that's set by its four storage OEMs: EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). Cisco expects each of its OEMs to qualify the SAN-OS 1.3 by mid-January 2004.

About the only significant new features that Cisco isn't charging extra for concern SAN management standards. The upgrade provides an embedded Common Information Model (CIM) agent based on the Storage Management Interface Specification (SMI-S); it supports the Internet Storage Name Service (iSNS) protocol, which automates the discovery and configuration of iSCSI devices; and supports the Fabric Device Management Interface (FDMI), which provides a standard way to manage host bus adapters (HBAs) from a central location.

And some of the new features Cisco is charging for essentially fill in gaps in its product when the MDS 9000 first shipped earlier this year.

Ficon, for example, is feature critical for mainframe environments, and an area where both Cisco and Brocade have been trailing McData. Cisco says it's now providing an unprecedented ability to intermix multiple protocols -- Ficon, Ficon Control Unit Port (CUP), Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and FCIP -- on the same switch.

Another feature new in SAN-OS 1.3 is inter-VSAN routing, which addresses another shortcoming Cisco was criticized for in its initial rollout of the MDS. Competitors had pointed out that any device on a given VSAN, which provides the ability to logically separate traffic on the same physical switch, could not be accessed from a second VSAN (see Cisco's VSANs: Hype or Innovation?).Cisco has eliminated this issue with inter-VSAN routing, which is able to interconnect among multiple VSANs. "Now I have the flexibility to provide access to shared resources, such as tape libraries, that may be distributed across multiple VSANs," says Bhardwaj.

Like Ficon support, though, inter-VSAN routing will cost extra. Cisco is bundling VSAN routing into its Enterprise Package, which includes LUN zoning, read-only zones, and the new QOS traffic management capabilities. The QOS feature allows administrators to prioritize traffic based on VSAN, source or destination, or physical port (see Cisco Fixes on FC Switches).

On the SAN security front, SAN-OS 1.3 provides support for Fibre Channel Security Protocol (FC-SP), designed to prevent intrusion from unauthorized devices, and Terminal Access Controller Access Control System (TACACS+), giving customers another option in addition to RADIUS for authentication, authorization, and accounting of their switches.

Meanwhile, Cisco has enhanced its FCIP support, available with the separately sold IP Services Module for the MDS 9000 (see Cisco Implants IP in SANs and Cisco & IBM Jam on SANs). First, it has added 2:1 compression that takes advantage of network processors on each Gigabit Ethernet port. Cisco has developed FCIP write acceleration, which cuts out one roundtrip between local and remote sites by eliminating an initial "XFER_RDY" acknowledgement command. As a result, this feature can in essence double the distance applications are able to run over FCIP, according to Bhardwaj.

Finally, Cisco has upgraded its Fabric Manager Server, a server-based version of the Cisco Fabric Manager that provides centralized management of multiple physical fabrics, continuous discovery and event monitoring, and historical performance monitoring. And you guessed it -- the Fabric Manager Server will cost extra.— Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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