Cisco Unveils SMB Storage Offering; Nortel, Brocade Team For Enterprise

Cisco Systems on Tuesday unveiled its Cisco SN 5428 storage router, a platform which includes both IP and Fibre Channel switching technologies. The product represents the company's first foray into the Fibre Channel space since its alliance with Fibre Channel switch vendor Brocade Communications quietly disappeared.

However, Brocade is not sitting still in the IP networking front. The company, along with Nortel Networks, on Tuesday unveiled optical SAN solutions to connect SAN islands together using DWDM technology.

Cisco's 5428 is aimed at cutting the cost of deploying SAN solutions, making them suitable for enterprise workgroups, corporate departments, and even SMBs, said Doug Ingraham, senior manager for the company.

The 5428 includes two Gigabit Ethernet ports and eight 2.0-Gbps Fibre Channel ports. Unlike the company's earlier 5420 router, which uses iSCSI to connect SAN islands over IP networks, the 5428 can serve as a low-end Fibre Channel switch to connect directly to Fibre Channel devices, or as an iSCSI router, or a combination of both.

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Cisco is using the 5428 to introduce smaller customers to the possibilities of low-cost SANs, said Ingraham. The unit, which is shipping this week, has a list price of $11,995. One 5428, when bundled with a Cisco Catalyst 3550-48, a 48-port Gigabit Ethernet switch, allows a 56-port SAN to be built for a total of $16,990, or $303 per port, Ingraham said. "For SMBs, there is little difference in performance between iSCSI and Fibre Channel because of their relatively small throughput requirements," he said. "But iSCSI is much cheaper than Fibre Channel."

A small all-Fibre Channel SAN might consist of 20 servers, each of which has a Fibre Channel host bus adapter, said Ingraham. The host bus adapters might cost a total of $14,000, and require a $32,000 Fibre Channel switch, he said. Total cost is $46,000.

Using the 5428, on the other hand, means those 20 servers would need 18 10/100-Mbps Ethernet cards with free iSCSI drivers, two Fibre Channel host bus adapters at a cost of about $1,400, and the 5428 with Catalyst 3550-48 bundle, for a grand total of $18,400, he said.

In addition, since the Cisco router and switch use IP protocols to connect SCSI devices to the servers, there would be no need to have a Fibre Channel expert on staff, cutting the cost of the network down even further, according to Ingraham. "If it's a midsize company with 100 people, they don't have the luxury of having three different network administrators on staff," he said.

Cisco is working with Imation, an Oakdale, Minn.-based storage testing lab to test and certify SAN solutions that solution providers can sell, said Ingraham.

Such solutions, consisting of the 5428, storage devices, specific Fibre Channel host bus adapters, and a variety of storage software, are certified on a per-VAR basis, allowing solution providers to offer specific solutions based on their own customer base. "We take a VAR's preferences and turn them into a bundled solution," Ingraham said. "We test and certify solutions specifically for that VAR."

Unlike Cisco, which Tuesday focused on the SMB and corporate workgroup, the new alliance between Brocade and Nortel is aimed directly at the enterprise space.

The two have completed extensive interoperability testing, and have jointly developed three pre-tested SAN applications to allow enterprises to internetwork their SANs across MANs and WANs using DWDM technology, said Surya Turaga, director of global alliances at Brocade.

Jointly developed solutions include remote mirroring, remote backups and SAN consolidation, said Surya.

The solutions will be available through direct and indirect sales channels, said Jack Hunt, director of marketing for optical storage connectivity at Nortel. Hunt said Nortel currently has 30 large indirect channel partners, including 20 traditional enterprise VARs, as well as a large number of managed services partners such as carriers like Sprint and Verizon.