Cisco aims at SANs for the rest of us

SAN FRANCISCO (05/14/2002) - Workgroups and small and medium-sized businesses will be able to take advantage of SANs (storage area networks) using a Cisco Systems Inc. router to be announced Tuesday, a Cisco executive said Monday.

SANs can allow for a more flexible and efficient way to store data than simply attaching a storage unit directly to a server. With a SAN, a company or workgroup with several servers and storage devices could enjoy easier storage management, centralized data backup and more efficient use of storage resources, according to San Jose, California-based Cisco. The technology so far has been mostly limited to large enterprise data centers.

With the router to be announced Tuesday, the Cisco SN 5428 Storage Router, departments and businesses with approximately five to 20 servers will be able set up a SAN without staff having detailed knowledge of Fibre Channel, the type of connectivity typically used in SANs, according to Doug Ingraham, senior manager in the Cisco Storage Technology Group. The SN 5428, equipped with Gigabit Ethernet as well as Fibre Channel interfaces, includes iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) capability so servers and switches can communicate using traditional SCSI commands, but over an IP network. That means local IS personnel can set up SANs using their existing knowledge of IP networking, he said. These workgroups normally are staffed by an IS staff of one to manage network, servers and storage.

By utilizing IP, users also can take advantage of security systems built for IP, such as firewalls and IPSec (IP Security) encryption devices, that are not yet available for Fibre Channel, Ingraham added. To partition a few servers and storage devices into a group to control access to data, the administrators can use either VLANs (virtual LANs) or the Fibre Channel zoning technique. Using LUN (Logical Unit Number) technology, they can assign each attached server to be able to access only certain storage resources.

The SN 5428 comes with two Gigabit Ethernet Fibre Channel ports and eight Fibre Channel ports than can operate at 1G bps (bits per second) or 2G bps. In most cases, servers will be linked to the router via a Fast Ethernet switch with a Gigabit Ethernet uplink, and storage devices will use the Fibre Channel ports, Ingraham said. The router includes a Fibre Channel switching fabric, so workgroups that have the expertise can set up a Fibre Channel network among servers and storage.

SANs for workgroups is an emerging market with strong potential, but more work needs to be done to make it easy for the uninitiated to set up and manage SANs, said Jamie Gruener, senior analyst at Yankee Group, in Boston.

"They're very interested in something like this ... but it has to be easy for them to deploy, along the lines of Ethernet, and I don't think we're there yet," Gruener said.

Other vendors have tried to make SANs easier for small workgroups, but it's a complicated technology, Gruener said.

"The first-generation products have not been as easy to use as promised," Gruener said. "It's still a time when people need to evaluate whether it's too early for them to adopt it," he added.

The SN 5428 began shipping last week and carries a list price of US$11,995. Cisco is working with value-added resellers to create packages that include software for storage-management tasks such as data backup and replication, Cisco's Ingraham said.

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