SANbox 5200 introduces stackable switches to FC world
Low-priced QLogic unit simplifies SAN management, boosts scalabilityFollow @infoworld
There are some ingenious ideas that make people slap their foreheads and ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” QLogic built the SANbox 5200, its new FC (Fibre Channel) switch around one such idea: applying the concept of stackable switches, quite common in the Ethernet world, to the FC world to aid in SAN management and configuration.
The SANbox 5200 has great scalability. It can expand from eight to 16 ports, each running at 2Gb, with a simple, nondisruptive license-key update. In addition, like other FC switches, the SB5200 can easily expand your fabric by interconnecting other units.
You can pile up a maximum of four units to scale from eight to 64 ports but unlike other FC switches, the SB5200 offers dedicated 10Gb ports for ISLs (inter-switch links), which preserves all its native 2Gb ports for applications.
This may seem a minor manufacturing detail until you consider what it would take to build a network with the equivalent number of ports using traditional switches. For instance, in a properly configured mesh of six 16-port switches, those ISLs account for 30 ports — leaving only 66 ports available for applications.
Even if we set the cost at a dirt-cheap $600 per port, maintaining those connections proves to be quite expensive. Moreover, you’ll likely end up with messy, spaghettilike connections between switches.
By contrast, the SB5200 offers a more elegant and economic solution to connect multiple switches into a fabric, which puts this innovative switch in a class of its own: You can buy exactly the ports needed to connect servers and devices without sacrificing any to ISLs.
Setup Made Simple
Because I wanted a full four-switch stack to test the SANBox 5200, QLogic made available a dedicated test room on their premises, including a Windows 2000 server on IBM hardware and two storage arrays. The SANbox 5200 itself has a very clean 1U chassis with all the ports neatly aligned on the front of the unit. This simplifies routing cables when multiple units are stacked and rack-mounted.
In addition to the 16+4 FC ports (16 2Gb ports for devices and servers and four 10Gb ports for ISLs), the SANbox 5200 also has one power connector, one Ethernet port, and one serial port for management.
The SANbox 5200 clearly targets entry-level customers, so it’s no surprise that QLogic tried to make installation and maintenance as easy as possible. In that spirit, the new version of SANBox Manager, the management application for QLogic switches, includes a wizard that facilitates the initial setup for less technical users.
For instance, to set the initial IP address, the wizard offers bootp and other techniques that don’t require the administrator to use the CLI (command line interface). I never had to leave the GUI to set up my units; SANbox Manager Wizard collected all the first-time information, such as IP address, password, and domain; it then suggested power-cycling the switch to activate the new configuration via bootp.
It’s comforting to know that the configuration of the SANbox 5200 can still be done using CLI and the serial port or Telnet, but I touched neither during my test. In addition, when I connected two storage arrays and two servers to the fabric, the switch immediately recognized the devices and they appeared, properly identified, in my GUI.