• United States
by Anne Skamarock

Cisco debuts fabric switch

Feb 11, 20033 mins
Cisco SystemsData Center

* Cisco wins support from major management vendors

Cisco is holding a coming out party for its MDS 9000 family of fabric switches this week and the dance card was full from the start. Together with some of the top storage management vendors, Cisco announced the first milestone of its product release: the support of Cisco’s switches by those vendors. 

The management vendors (with its management products) signed up to work with the MDS 9000 include BMC Software and its PATROL Storage Management suite, Computer Associates (BrightStor SAN Manager), IBM Tivoli Software (SAN Manager), InterSAN (Pathline), TekTools (Storage Profiler), and Veritas (SANPoint Control). These are certainly some of the major players in the storage resource management market.

Every switch vendor has APIs for these management vendors to hook into but what makes the Cisco MDS 9000 so special? Well, Cisco’s switch is the result of its acquisition of Andiamo last year, which made Cisco a bit of a latecomer to the storage-area network (SAN) switch market.  As such, it is required to move quickly to achieve parity of service (functionality).  To do this, Cisco has chosen to use SNMP MIBS, both industry standard and Cisco specific, as the primary management interface until the SAN CIM/WEBM management interfaces are broadly adopted. The use of industry-standard interfaces allowed the management vendors to quickly add support for the MDS 9000 to their products.

But remember, this is only a first step.  The MDS 9000 is one of the “intelligent fabric switches” we keep hearing about. At its lowest level, it performs switching functions and can be managed as a switch.  However, unlike many of the switches deployed in a SAN today, it supports additional layers of capabilities that will continue to evolve over time.

One such capability available now is the ability to create VSANs (virtual SANs, man I hate using that “v” word) within a single MDS 9000.  “What the heck is a VSAN?” you ask.  Well, in concept, it’s very much like a VLAN found in the traditional networking world. 

VSAN is a SAN that is partitioned completely separate from other SAN infrastructure, even though the connections are going through the same box (or two boxes for fail-over). “Well, that sounds like zoning to me!” you say. Zoning, especially hardware enforced zoning, provides significant security features for a SAN, limiting the visibility and connectivity between devices.

VSANs work in conjunction with zoning. To understand VSANs, think of your current SAN infrastructure.  Today in larger installations, you find SAN islands: physically separated SANS containing switches with their associated zoning characteristics, managed completely separately.  VSANs create that same infrastructure through one or more MDS 9000s all with a unified management interface.

So, while switch management capabilities for the MDS 9000 may not excite you, you have to admit that they are moving quickly against their roadmap and, given Cisco’s history in network infrastructures, you certainly want to “watch this space.”