Cisco Pushes Intelligence On The Storage Network

Luca Cafiero, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Storage Technology Group, and Soni Jiandani, vice president of the Storage Technology Group, shared the stage on Tuesday to discuss trends in networking and the company's own vision for where storage intelligence should best be placed.

Cafiero said SANs today still have a long way to evolve from the current state, which he described as local SANs, to a true global SAN, but the evolution is progressing in much the same way as LAN and WAN evolution did in the past.

The key to a global SAN is to add intelligence to the network, Cafiero said. "The moment you have an intelligent SAN, a lot of services can migrate there from the server and storage sides," he said. "Many services are better done in the network."

Some of those services include volume management or virtualization, which allows storage to be pooled for automatic provisioning and data replication, Jiandani said.

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By enabling these services via intelligent storage networks, businesses can gain a number of advantages such as centralized management of the network, the ability to isolate servers from changes in storage systems, and increased scalability and availability, Jiandani said.

The Cisco approach has been to apply the lessons of its networking history to storage networking, said Jiandani. For instance, she said, with the advent of Cisco's MDS 9500 storage switch, the company can support local Fibre Channel switching, but has buffers for longer-distance networking. Cisco is also working to embed more WAN and LAN support in the switch, and augment it with such features as high availability and storage security, she said.

By combining networking services with storage networking services, the industry can start to build a global SAN, Jiandani said.

Such an integrated global SAN will allow the central management of data volumes and disks so that a server can look at the available storage and see a pool of storage resources that can be provisioned automatically, she said.

Other advantages of the global SAN include the capability to do network-based replication, which has become an important trend in the wake of Sept. 11 and the resulting push for disaster recovery, she said. The global SAN will also allow point-in-time data snapshots to be done using low-cost arrays for remote and local backups, with data later being backed up to tape, she said.

William Allen, president of ESS, a four-month-old Westlake Village, Calif.-based solution provider formed by former Qualstar executives, said that Cisco has a good message, but is still in a catch-up mode for storage.

"It's ironic," Allen said. "Cisco had the opportunity a couple of years ago to capture the market. But they ignored Brocade and Fibre Channel. So now they're playing catch-up. But they're off to a good start."

Cisco brings brand-name awareness to the storage market, said Allen. "But I don't think it has the weight it did a few years ago," he said. "But they have the bandwidth, the resources to make it. And they're well funded."

Many storage vendors are moving to add intelligence to their networks, but most solutions today are still host-based, Allen said. "Adding intelligence to the network benefits end users and enables them to better manage their data flow," he said. "But Brocade started early, doing the things Cisco ignored. I'm glad to see [Cisco] coming back."