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Cisco smartens up storage landscape

Cisco smartens up storage landscape

Storage industry representatives and vendors are claiming Cisco’s move into the storage space is “changing the landscape” of how management solutions are put together and providing customers with increasingly more customisable SANs.

Speaking at the Ingram Micro Storage, Networking and Security (SNS) roadshow in Sydney recently, Veritas Software national channel manager, Frank Zanotto, said the networking giant’s launch of “smart” storage switches with IBM is building intelligence into the fabric of a customer’s SAN.

“The launch of combined Cisco and IBM switches changes the landscape of how storage solutions go together,” he said.

Zanotto attributed the development of smarter network fabrics to the networking giant’s licensing of Veritas’ storage virtualisation software.

“It [storage] is not a one size fits all environment,” he said.

Last week, IBM announced it would begin shipping a new SAN module in December for Cisco’s multi-layer directors and fabric switches (MDS) 9000 series of storage switches. The module is based on the software from IBM’s SAN Volume Controller storage appliance and gives customers the ability to pool storage capacity from a variety of devices on the network into a virtual storage system.

Cisco business development manager for storage networking in Australia and New Zealand, Dylan Morison, said Cisco deliberately developed an open storage switch architecture to give specialist storage vendors the ability to integrate their own software onto the switch.

The announcement of IBM’s storage engine module illustrated Cisco switch products being integrated closely with the storage applications they were running, he said.

“In storage, you need to integrate elements to an efficient level. [It is an] extremely technical environment which needs to be integrated tightly,” Morison said.

He said Cisco’s MDS 9000 storage switch products were built on technology developed for the Ethernet world. One key feature was the introduction of virtual SAN technology, which allowed companies to create separate areas of storage within the one device.

In Ethernet environments, network administrators can establish a virtual LAN and segment it into different department groups. This is designed to minimise faults effecting all areas of the LAN, as well as increase security across each segment. “The same happens in the SAN environment – you might set up a basic fabric, where you have test and production environments,” Morison said. “Traditionally, you’d put in two switches. The problem then is that you’re using multiple devices to house segments.”

Cisco’s new storage switches use virtual technology to consolidate servers while setting up ports for different environments, thereby allowing users to work on one virtual area without affecting the others.

“We had this virtual technology in the disk and server space, in that now you can put one or two switches and have multiple segments at a single point,” he said.

Cisco had also introduced quality of service diagnostic check features into its storage switches to allow users to perform network checks and identify problems across the entire network, Morison said.

For example, users can “ping” each port across the network to see whether it’s up or down or to locate bottlenecks, he said. Previously, users would be required to purchase a separate fibre channel analyser device in order to perform similar kinds of network checks.

Morison said while storage virtualisation technologies could already be found within storage network hosts, servers or storage disk arrays, Cisco was one of the first vendors to deploy these features directly into its storage switches.

“This has caused the whole storage landscape to change,” he said. “Cisco is putting intelligence into the network environment. SANs are no different.”

Although Cisco’s move into the storage world may look like a step into a new market space, Morison said storage management tied in with what the company did best: networking.

“When organisations are developing their [SAN] storage model, there’s a cloud in the middle," he said. "Realistically, many don’t talk about what’s in the cloud. Cisco understands the cloud – we understand the network, and how to prioritise traffic.'

But despite its confidence in its storage technology, Cisco has opted to resell its MDS 9000 series directly to storage vendors, rather than distribute the product through its own channel partners. Since the beginning of 2003, the networking giant has announced deals to sell its MDS 9000 to IBM, HP, EMB and Hitachi Data Systems.

Morison said the decision was based on the belief that “official storage manufacturers, or OSMs”, would be the best agencies to provide storage–related products and services to partners.

He said Cisco was continuing to expand on its storage switches and overall switching platform to include more intelligent enhancements for the storage environment.

“There are still a lot of features to be brought over from the Ethernet side for example,” he said.

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