New storage switches could alter SANs

SUNNYVALE, Calif. - Vendors are rolling out a new breed of director-level switches that could get companies rethinking their storage-area-network (SAN) setups.

The multiprotocol devices will combine muscle and brains, zipping data across servers and arrays like typical storage switches but also supporting sophisticated applications for virtualizing and replicating data. They'll also see to it that quality-of-service (QoS) levels are met.

Device makers say they are better suited to run storage management applications than less-powerful servers or arrays, which is where companies typically run such applications. Switch proponents say the boxes have more power than servers, are not wedded to specific arrays, and sit in the middle of the data path.

Many of the products are from young companies, including:

  • Sanera Systems Inc., which in April will preview its 256-port DS10000 Datacenter-Class Director at Storage Networking World in Phoenix.

  • MaXXan Systems, which recently announced the MXV320 switch, a box that features a separate application card to house third-party applications.

  • Maranti Networks, which was named one of Network World's 10 Start-ups to Watch last year and plans to launch an intelligent storage switch this summer.

  • Stealth-mode vendor Sandial Systems, which sources say is working on a second-quarter release of a high-end multiprotocol switch that will offer complete isolation of applications to ensure QoS.

Products also are on the way from established vendors such as Brocade Communications. Brocade earlier this month announced that seven companies will port applications to run on a 16-port switch the company developed, which is set to roll out by year-end. Cisco Systems Inc. Hewlett-Packard Co, and Sun Microsystems Inc. also have announced plans to enter the market.

Mark Moroses, senior director of technical services and security officer at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, uses a DataCore server-based appliance to virtualize the storage from a mainframe server, five Unix servers, and 135 Windows and NetWare servers. He's evaluating Cisco's MDS 9216 Multilayer Fabric Switch to handle another application that replicates 6 to 8 terabytes of storage data between SANs located 10 blocks from each other.

"I'm not looking to replace the DataCore management capability, but to have the Cisco [box] do the SAN-to-SAN replication," he says. "Cisco hardware at [the switch level] lets me move large volumes of data efficiently and avoid choke points in my data flow."

Analysts anticipate it will take a while for most users to learn the best way to exploit the new switch capabilities.

"The litmus test will be to improve storage-network and array management without replicating what customers already accomplish through other products," says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst for The Yankee Group.

Product particulars

Sanera's DS10000 consists of 256 nonblocking Fibre Channel ports in a single chassis, which can be partitioned into four isolated switches for QoS purposes. Eight 32-port line cards, each supporting 10G bit/sec Ethernet, iSCSI, Fibre Connection and 1G or 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel, fit in the chassis. Individual port paddles plug into the ASICs on the front of the line cards, enabling the required speeds.

Sanera, backed by $65 million in venture funding and started by ex-Sun and Silicon Graphics employees, says its box could be used to replace smaller switches dedicated to individual SANs but keep the data on those SANs separate.

"The partitioning is a step beyond Cisco's [virtual SAN]," says Nancy Marrone, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group. "They are truly doing hard partitioning, so a customer could split the switch into autonomous regions, while still letting individual user groups have their own level of management for their SAN."

MaXXan's MXV320 is a 320-port nonblocking switch with Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over IP and Gigabit Ethernet technology. The chassis contains two types of line cards: one that has 10 ports of either Gigabit Ethernet or 1G bit/sec Fibre Channel and one that has five ports that can be configured as 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet.

The MXV320's separate application card, or brain blade, will support third-party programs such as Veritas' data replication, third-party copy and upcoming virtualization software.

Few details are public about Sandial's product, other than that it has fewer ports per line card than Sanera's DS10000 and that the company is focused on QoS support. Sources say Sandial's switch has two ports per line card vs. Sanera's 32, letting customers more finely tune QoS and availability.

"Users don't have to take eight or 16 ports offline to replace a card and they get true QoS," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst with Enterprise Storage Group.

Even less information has been divulged about Maranti's multiprotocol director-level switch, which has Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Gigabit Ethernet capability and runs virtualization software of Maranti's own design. Maranti officials say the box will have ports numbering in the hundreds and will assign applications to groups of ports and maintain service-level agreements between them.

This story, "New storage switches could alter SANs" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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