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Cisco enlists IBM for storage push

Jan 13, 20034 mins
Cisco SystemsData CenterIBM

IBM customers will have new choices for storage gear as a result of a deal Big Blue inked with Cisco last week to resell the network giant’s recently announced Fibre Channel switches

ARMONK, N.Y. – IBM customers will have new choices for storage gear as a result of a deal Big Blue inked with Cisco last week to resell the network giant’s recently announced Fibre Channel switches.

Systems powerhouse IBM became the first vendor to agree to resell Cisco’s MDS 9000 Fibre Channel switches and add them to its storage-area network (SAN) bundles, which include different-size switches from Brocade, McData and InRange.

IBM will bundle Cisco’s MDS 9000 fabric and multiprotocol director-level switches with its Enterprise Storage Server (ESS), FAStT midrange disk arrays and tape systems/libraries to create larger SANs, and those that incorporate WAN capability and converge with IP networks. These bundles will work with IBM’s pSeries and xSeries servers, and machines running HP-UX, Linux, Windows and Solaris. In addition, IBM’s Tivoli management software will be used to discover and monitor SANs consisting of IBM and Cisco gear.

Review: Cisco’s MDS 9509 switch

Cisco has entered the storage market with a bang, introducing a feature-rich, director-class swtich that delivers excellent performance.

Analysts say IBM’s integration of Cisco switches could be attractive to the latter’s installed base.

“The biggest competitive edge Cisco has now has nothing really to do with product or technology – they have networking mindshare,” says John Webster, senior analyst with Data Mobility Group. “Cisco’s short-term competitive edge lies in finding all those loyal Cisco customers who have been waiting on the fence to jump into storage networking.”

IBM recognizes that potential.

“With the Cisco products, there is additional opportunity associated with those customers that want to converge the management and administration of their IP networks with their Fibre Channel storage networks,” says Tarek Makansi, director of product strategy for storage products at IBM.

Customers say they agree.

“I would consider buying Cisco because we already use their equipment on the IP side of the house and we could leverage the common [command-line interface], administrators and business relationships we have with Cisco,” says Ken Walters, senior IS director for the Public Broadcasting Service in Alexandria, Va. He uses Brocade Silkworm switches in a SAN consisting of IBM ESS and FAStT500 arrays, and HP, Sun and Compaq servers running Windows 2000, HP-UX and Red Hat Linux.

“It would be nice to merge [our IP and SAN staffs] and get some economies of scale,” Walters says. “That is why Cisco entering this market is intriguing.”

The switches, which are managed from a command-line interface similar to Cisco’s IOS, include the MDS 9509 Multilayer Director, the Cisco MDS 9216 Multilayer Fabric Switch and associated modules that Cisco acquired in August from Andiamo Systems, a Cisco-funded start-up. IBM expects bundles to be available by the end of this quarter, after it completes interoperability testing.

IBM Systems Group Vice President Roland Hagan says the deal will open up a new customer set that includes telecom customers and those interested in converging Fibre Channel and IP SANs.

Analysts, however, say Cisco’s success in storage will not rely totally on customer perception, but on the partnerships Cisco builds with other vendors.

“Without major storage partners, the MDS 9000 product line would be DOA,” says Charles King, senior analyst with Sageza. “Since EMC is also in the process of qualifying the MDS 9000, we’ll see another [announcement] similar to this one when those tests are completed.”

HP and EMC say they will resell the Cisco switches along with other vendors’ Fibre Channel products.

Fibre Channel fans

The major Fibre Channel switch makers are in for a battle over fabric, and director-level switches, analysts say.
CompanyProduct# of portsFICON cababilityMarket share




First half of 2003

CiscoMDS 900016-768No0%
McDataSphereon and Intrepid16-140Yes26.4%