IBM, Cisco Partner On iSCSI, FCIP

IBM executives Tuesday said the company will be the first storage vendor to offer Cisco's MDS 9000 IP Storage Services Module, a card that, when plugged into a Cisco MDS 9000-series SAN director or fabric switch, adds both iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) capabilities.

The news follows by a day McData's announcement that it is working with Network Appliance to deliver interoperable solutions that bring together NAS and SAN solutions.

Scott Drummond, program director for storage networking at IBM, said his company will offer Cisco's IP Storage Services Module direct and via solution providers to two types of customers: iSCSI for those looking to build low-cost SANs over common IP networks, and FCIP for those looking to tie two or more SANs together over long distance.

The IP Storage Services Module works with Cisco's 9216 Fibre Channel switch, its 9509 224-port Fibre Channel director and its 9506 128-port director, the latter of which was also unveiled Tuesday.

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Drummond said the module is a good channel product because many target customers don't have both of storage integration skills and the network integration skills needed to build IP-based SANs.

"These two sets of skills are not found in most shops," he said. "VARs can come in, put together whatever SAN is needed, and overcome any political difference that exists between the two sides."

Hunt Russell, sales manager at Evolving Solutions, a Hamel, Minn.-based IBM solution provider, said Cisco's IP Storage Services Module is a big storage play for IBM.

"A lot of customers don't want to install Fibre Channel SANs right away due to cost," said Russell. "But they have Cisco routers and switches."

The main issue keeping the iSCSI market from taking off was the fact that iSCSI, until very recently, wasn't ratified as a standard protocol, Russell said. "Customers would say, 'Why invest in one company's brand of iSCSI?' " he said. "Now a customer can take advantage of the low-cost technology."

ISCSI offers solution providers mixed blessings, Russell said. While it helps increase the number of customers that can afford a SAN, there is some cannibalization of existing SAN customers. "Some will say, 'Why pay for Fibre channel when we can get iSCSI?' " he said. "It all depends on customers' needs."

Executives at McData, which is Cisco's main rival in the Fibre Channel director space and one of its key rivals in the SAN switch space, said the company is working to ensure interoperability of its directors and switches with NetApp's FAS900 and F800 series of storage systems, along with NetApp's NearStore near-line products.

As a result, customers will be able to back up data from the NetApp NAS appliances via a McData-based SAN to tape libraries or disk-to-disk storage arrays, the executives said.