Cisco hits Fibre Channel market

Cisco Systems, the 800-pound gorilla of networking, said today that it's jumping into the Fibre Channel storage-area network (SAN) box with its own switches and directors, posing the first major challenge to Brocade Systems and McData, which have held nearly 100 percent of the switch marketplace since Fibre Channel's inception.

Cisco announced today that the Multilayer DataCenter Switch (MDS) 9000 family of storage switches and directors, both with 1G bit/sec. or 2G bit/sec. data transfer rates, will be available in the fourth quarter, which ends Dec. 31.

Using four different chassis, Cisco's new line of products allows network managers to configure a switch with up to 48 ports, or a director, which is a fully redundant switch, with as many as 256 ports.

"That instantly makes it the largest switch available in the marketplace," said Arun Taneja, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

Cisco purchased the technology for the switches when the company paid US$41 million for a stake in San Jose-based Andiamo Systems Inc. in April 2001. Andiamo and Cisco wouldn't disclose any details of the product development until today, when Cisco announced that it is acquiring Andiamo.

The price Cisco will pay for Andiamo will be based on the sales of its switches during a three-month period after the deal is closed, officials said. That could be as much as $2.5 billion. Cisco expects to close the acquisition no later than July 2004.

Dan Scheinman, senior vice president of corporate development at Cisco, said in a statement that Andiamo's products represent "the next generation of storage networking and provide the industry's first multilayer intelligent storage solution."

"They have created what I consider a very elegant design," added Taneja. "The product line is fully capable of multiprotocol, but the initial emphasis is 100 percent Fibre Channel. That tells me they're going full-blast against Brocade and McData."

San Jose-based Brocade commands 60 percent to 90 percent of the Fibre Channel switch marketplace, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., with Broomfield, Colo.-based McData carrying the majority of the rest of the marketplace with its director-class switches.

According to Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., the Fibre Channel switch marketplace is expected to grow from approximately $1.2 billion in 2002 to $4.3 billion in 2006.

Cisco said the new switches and directors are capable of communicating via Fibre Channel, SCSI over Internet Protocol and Fibre Channel over IP.

Essentially, Cisco is selling its product in four different chassis or configurations. The first chassis is reserved as a switch and has two slots that can hold either two 16-port switch blades or one 16-port and one 32-port blade, for a total of 48 ports. The other three chassis are designed as director-class switches and have six, nine or 13 slots. The first two slots in each of those chassis are reserved for supervisor or controller blades, which manage the cluster of switch blades and provide redundancy. The remaining slots can be configured with 32-port switch blades for a maximum of 64, 128 or 256 ports. The 9509 director can be stacked three to a rack for up to 768 ports.

The only other vendor that offers a 256-port director is start-up Inrange Technologies Inc. in Lumberton, N.J.

The Cisco MDS 9509 director and the Cisco MDS 9216 switch, along with the 16- and 32-port Cisco MDS 9000 Fibre Channel switching modules, are expected to be available in the fourth quarter. The Cisco MDS 9506 and the Cisco MDS 9513 directors, along with the 8-port Cisco MDS 9000 IP Storage Module, are expected to be available in the first half of 2003. The MDS 9000 switches start at $29,995.

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