IBM and Cisco Sync, Widen SAN Coverage

IBM and Cisco are continuing their collaboration on storage area networks (SANs), touting long-distance connectivity and cost savings through the new Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) protocol.

The two companies claim the Cisco MDS 9000 IP Storage Services Module, which will be resold by IBM, will provide long-distance SAN connectivity across existing infrastructures and will offer benefits to storage availability and to the bottom line.

Forrester senior industry analyst Anders Lofgren told TechNewsWorld that the networking directors and fabric switches may be a bit ahead of their time, but are still likely to make storage networking attractive to more businesses by driving down the cost of bandwidth and SAN support.

Mixing Switches

With the Cisco MDS 9000, IBM and Cisco are promoting Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI), an extension of the SCSI interface developed by the two companies to increase SAN coverage and capability.

Lofgren said serious consideration and deployment of iSCSI is not expected until next year, but customers that want to “play” with the emerging SAN protocol now can do so. As for FCIP, he said it provides remote mirroring and disaster recovery capabilities.

Collaborating Cost Down

By letting customers use existing fibre channel networks in conjunction with IP networking infrastructures, IBM and Cisco are driving down the cost of SANs, according to Luca Cafiero, Cisco senior vice president and general manager of the company’s Switching, Voice and Storage Technologies Group.

For his part, Forrester’s Lofgren, who referred to the cost of bandwidth as one of the largest limitations on storage networking, said FCIP support and storage networking capability in the switch might make SAN use and expansion more attractive.

“To the extent FCIP can decrease costs, it lowers that barrier,” he said. “That can become an important factor, and it could open [storage networking] up to more customers.”

Extending the SAN

Cisco spokesperson John Noh told TechNewsWorld that the iSCSI protocol will allow SANs to spread beyond large and mission-critical servers to smaller servers. He said the cost of connectivity and restraints of fibre channels are eliminated by MDS 9000’s support for both iSCSI and FCIP.

“Now you have the ability to bring mid-size servers and workgroups into the SAN,” Noh said. “Essentially, you are extending the reach of your SANs, increasing their value and protecting more servers.”

Big Data Customers

In concert with the announcement of IBM support of the MDS 9000, Cisco said financial giant AXA Group has begun deploying the SAN switches in a broad consolidation program.

AXA plans to deploy some 2,000 SAN switch ports around the world in the first year of the program, which is part of a US$1 billion technology agreement between AXA and IBM.

Cisco’s Noh said larger, data-intensive businesses – such as financial services and healthcare companies – are among the first large-scale implementations of the MDS 9000 storage networking switches.

Big Blue’s Head Start

Lofgren said that while IBM might have a lead in reselling the Cisco MDS 9000 module, the storage networking components likely will be rolled out to other Cisco vendors.

“IBM may have a jump, but you would still expect Cisco will make this available to other resellers in the near term,” he noted.

The Forrester analyst added that while Cisco, as well as competitors McData and Brocade, currently might be tied to a business model that requires resellers such as IBM or HP, the networking company soon might be trying to sell packages on its own.

“Longer term, I think [Cisco] would like to see that [reseller model] changed,” Lofgren said.

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