Nearly three and a half years after announcing a high-end storage switch, Cisco says the market is finally ready for it.Sources say that the company, which is already among the market leaders in storage switching, is expected to introduce as soon as April a 528-port Fibre Channel device designed to help companies consolidate their storage-area networks (SAN) and avoid oversubscribing ports on smaller switches. Cisco declined to comment.The Cisco MDS 9513 MultiLayer Director was originally announced in August 2002 when Cisco first said it was getting into the Fibre Channel switch market. But the company decided to hold the then 256-port MDS 9513 off the market due to lack of demand for so dense a switch, a Cisco spokesman says.\u201cCisco waiting to do a 4Gbps x 528-port switch makes a lot of sense,\u201d says Greg Schulz, senior analyst with research firm Storage IO in Stillwater, Minn. \u201cKeep in mind that the 256-port market is just now in prime time.\u201dThe switch, which is in beta test, features 13 slots and 4Gbps Fibre Channel ports. It tops Cisco\u2019s current high-end offering, a 224-port device, and surpasses McData\u2019s 256-port Intrepid 10000 Director. Like Cisco\u2019s other Fibre Channel switches, it is expected to support not just Fibre Channel, but other protocols such as iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP. It also will support intelligent storage services such as virtualization, sources say.The desire to get away from oversubscribing current switches could be a powerful selling factor, observers say.\u201cOversubscription makes sense if you can manage and allocate the tiered ports similar to how it is done in the LAN world,\u201d Schulz says. \u201cHowever, it has also been a contentious topic among storage administrators, some of whom have seen it as a cardinal sin in I\/O configuration.\u201dSAN consolidation also could generate demand.\u201cOur move to [128-port] director-class MDS 9509s from the core-to-edge scenario has brought ease of provisioning, ease of use and less complexity to our environment,\u201d says Michael Passe, storage architect for Caregroup\/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. \u201cI would imagine that the MDS 9513 would do the same for people with higher numbers of hosts, who would like to move away from the core-to-edge design they might have used in the past, and consolidate on a single backplane.\u201dCisco\u2019s entry into Fibre Channel storage in 2003 has had considerable impact on the director-class market. In the fourth quarter of 2004, barely one and a half years after entering the market, Cisco and McData tied for market share leadership with 32.6%, according to the Yankee Group.