McData Goes 4 Gbps, Unveils New Channel Program

The Broomfield, Colo.-based vendor Monday refreshed its Sphereon line of Fibre Channel switches with two new models, the company's first to include the 4-Gbps interface, said Steve Scully, McData's director of product management. Also new is predictive optics monitoring, which is a technology to monitor the health and temperature of the optical connections and alert users to possible problems, he said.

The Sphereon 4400 can be configured for eight, 12 or 16 ports for small to midsize SANs. It is expected to replace the company's 4300 by year-end, said Scully. The Sphereon 4700 switch is aimed at larger SANs with 16, 24, or 32 ports and long distance support. It will eventually replace the company's 3232 switch, he said.

McData also currently sells the 4500, which sits between the 4300 and 3232, said Scully. That product will remain in production longer than the other two, he said.

By focusing on the new 4400 and 4700, McData can cut back on the amount of overlap between its products and simplify its product line. "It's simpler for our customers and our channel partners," he said.

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The new switches go into OEM qualifications this week, and are expected to be in the channel's hands in the third quarter, Scully said. Price has yet to be set, but he expects the per-port cost to be about half that of the company's current products.

Scott Winslow, president of Winslow Technology Group, a Boston-based solution provider, said it is exciting to see McData moving to bring out 4-Gbps products. "Everybody is waiting for it," he said. "McData switches make it very easy to upgrade the number of ports in the field. If they are moving to 4-Gbps technology at half the per-port price, it will push more customers into adopting SANs."

McData's investment in channel resources rose 400 percent in 2004 compared to 2003, including the hiring of 26 new channel support personnel, said Bruce Chumley, vice president of worldwide channel sales for the company. As a result, about 25 percent of the company's revenues come from its distribution channels, with almost all the rest coming from such OEMs as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, the majority of which goes through their channels, he said.

For solution providers working through McData's own channels, the company on Wednesday is introducing its first three-tiered channel program, said Denese Christopher, director of corporate field and channel marketing.

Partners at the select level make no sales commitments, and gain access to free phone incident support, web-based training, technology tool kits, and a private partner web site. At the premier level, those that commit to $500,000 in annual sales are eligible for co-op funds of 1 percent, along with free pre-sales support and opportunities to work with beta products. Elite partners that commit to annual sales of $1 million and get at least three people certified, get 3 percent co-op funds.

In June, McData plans to bring a virtual SAN lab online to make solution provider education easier, Christopher said. "It's a lab they can dial into," she said. "There's no need to bring in heavy equipment."