Accelerating the SAN on a budget

Cisco and Dell add fast, affordable pipes to the storage network

A couple of recent announcements from Cisco and Dell bring new, fast FC (Fibre Channel) and Ethernet switches to market at a price and with features that should make their competitors nervous.

I'll start with the Dell PowerConnect (that's Dell-company speak for "networking gear") 6224 and 6248, the first of which hosts 24 GbE ports while the latter doubles that capacity.

You can deploy these two Ethernet switches in data or storage networks at a price of $75 per port or less -- Dell sets the starting price at $1,800 for the 6224 and at $2,500 for the 6248.

Here's the most interesting part:  For both models, you may add up to four 1G or 10G optical transceivers and consolidate your copper and fibre clients into a single switch.

Moreover, both the 6224 and the 6248 have two optional 10G uplink ports for fast connectivity to existing networks. Those optical ports will, of course, increase the price, but according to Dell you can start with a basic unit and update later if necessary. 

Another contender in this networking rodeo is Cisco's new MDS 9124 Multilayer Fabric Switch. It's quite a different animal from the previous MDS 9020 model.

Cisco characterizes both models as edge solutions for SMBs, but the biggest difference is not the number of ports: This is the first fabric switch from Cisco offering a pay-as-you grow model, a model that other vendors have been offering for quite some time. The new MDS 9124 switch has 24 4G ports (versus 20 on the older model), but customers can start from a minimum configuration with eight ports and order more later in increments of eight as network requirements grow.

The modular scalability allows the 9124 a more affordable entry price, too. Cisco's estimate comes in around $5,500 for eight ports, although the company notes that their partners have the ultimate say on the final cost.

To make the switch more palatable to new storage-network customers, Cisco added a Quick Start wizard to the usual set of management applications. The wizard automatically identifies the devices connected to the switch and opens a matrix where an admin sets the configuration by simply checking a box for each device in a connection.

On the same screen, customers can assign that connection to and create a VSAN (virtual SAN). As a reminder, VSANs are innovative logical containers for storage network devices, conceptually similar to VLANs, and were initially introduced by Cisco. The VSAN concept, however, is now being adopted by other vendors, such as McData.

Back to the Cisco switch. Setting aside its technical features for a moment, take a quick glance at the competitive landscape in this space. The 9124 is Cisco's response to similar devices from its competitors, as is the recently announced collaboration with HP to create an embedded switch for the BladeSystem.

With the merger of Brocade and McData expected to finalize next year, the storage joust will include one less vendor but competition won't become less fierce, which is good. The way I read it, entry level customers will end up with a larger basket of affordable storage produce from which to choose. Not bad.

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