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Nets Pan SAN Gold In OSNI.

Big nuggets shine like IP

Storage is no longer an IT voice shouting in the wilderness, but the subject of serious interest by leading network companies. Recent partnerships are linking network leaders with SAN leaders now that the two letters defining the future of SAN is IP. In the most recent announcement, Cisco Systems, a leader in networking for the Internet, and Brocade Communications Systems, the current market share leader in Fibre Channel fabric switch solutions for Storage Area Networking, announced a multi-phased technology development agreement that could enable customers to seamlessly interconnect SANs over Internet Protocol (IP)-based metropolitan and wide area network infrastructures.

The Cisco/Brocade agreement will facilitate the interconnection of islands of SANs over IP-based Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) infrastructures. It will enable the deployment of high-performance SANs spanning multiple remote physical locations and make possible new types of SAN applications that previously could not be implemented over long distances, including diaster recovery, remote data replication, remote data backup, and digital content distribution.

In the first phase of the multi-phase technology agreement, the two companies will jointly develop a Fibre Channel interface for Cisco's Catalyst 6000 family of high-performance multilayer switches. In addition, Brocade and Cisco will certify the interoperability between Brocade Silk Worm Fibre Channel fabric switches with Cisco Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) products, which will enable SAN-to-SAN connectivity over high-speed fiber optic MANs.

Cisco and Brocade have also agreed to develop additional switch-to-switch connection products in the future to further expand customers' options for connecting Brocade Fibre Channel-based SANs across Cisco networking infrastructures, supporting a variety of high-speed network interfaces. All products resulting from this agreement will be compliant with ANSI T11 standards.

"More and more of our traditional enterprise customers are realizing the tremendous advantages afforded by adopting e-business strategies, a business model that dramatically increases their need to store, protect, and quickly access vast amounts of electronic data," said James Richardson, senior vice president of Cisco's Enterprise Line of Business in a formal release. "Our open, standards-based model has allowed us to extend the Cisco end-to-end networking reach to SANs, which in turn, provides our customers with investment protection and agility to quickly deploy emerging network business solutions. An example of this ability [is] the results of our relationship with Brocade. [It] will enable our mutual customers to optimize their existing IP-based networking infrastructure to interconnect high performance, Fibre Channel-based SANs across the enterprise." The partnership plans to cooperate with the ANSI T11 committee.

While this alliance is probably one of the largest of its kind, it is, by no means, the first to dabble in the LAN/MAN/WAN arena. The announcement echoes announcements made over the last several months by a much newer player, Computer Network Technology (CNT). In February 2000, CNT announced the availability of data replication over IP capabilities and, in April 2000, SAN over IP technology. CNT has remotely enabled long distance data recovery, replication, backup, and digital content distribution with its UltraNet and Channelink products. Currently, CNT is working on presenting its non-proprietary, currently available storage transport layer solution to T11. Data replication promises to be a significant storage operation as this year progresses.

"I think data replication is one of the biggest trends of 2000," said Steve Duplessie, analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, a storage research/analyst firm in Massachusetts. "All of these new dot-com ventures now understand the importance of the 'customer experience,' which is radically affected by data availability. In an ideal world, data is as close to the customer as possible. Now, there is an affordable option through data replication over IP."

Lucent/Vixel Partners, As Well

Another mainstream networking company to see the future in SAN is Lucent Technologies. Last May, the company announced that it would integrate Vixel's Fibre Channel switching technology into its OptiStar product line. Vixel's technology will help Lucent develop solutions that interconnect Storage Area Networks (SANs) over high performance, IP-based Wide Area Networks (WANs). Sound familiar?

"By integrating Vixel's Fibre Channel switching technology directly into our WAN access solutions, Lucent can help eliminate the bandwidth bottleneck created by traditional routed architectures and extend the SAN beyond the campus and into the high-speed optical WAN network," said Tim Sullivan, vice president & general manager of Lucent's Optical Area Networking group in a formal release.

"As SANs increase in size and complexity, connecting SANs over IP-based WANs is the next evolution of the storage infrastructure," said Jim McCluney, president and CEO at Vixel Corporation. "Our work with Lucent will enable enterprises to deploy SANs that are highly available and scalable and will accelerate the delivery of innovative storage solutions to meet the intense storage requirements of today's service providers."

Challenges Coming Up

The Cisco/Brocade announcement was made hard upon the announcement of a financing round for startup Nishan Systems, a company committed to developing "Storage over IP." The startup hopes to combine the best features of first-generation SANs' high availability and performance with the best features of IP networks, product compatibility, established standards, and scalability. SoIP will leverage the unprecedented improvements in the IP infrastructure itself and provide vendor interoperability, an unrealized goal that continues to plague current SAN offerings.

Nishan's Randy Farvol observes: "We wonder whether this [announcement between Cisco and Brocade] is a coincidence. It appears to be put together hastily."

In analyzing the agreement, Farvol continues: "Look at Brocade, tunneling out FC and SAN islands. Why would this appeal to Cisco; it blocks their push for Ethernet into the data center."

Cisco is involved with the Open Storage Network Initiative reported in last month's CTR. While the details and motivations are unclear, one thing stands out. The storage industry is due to accept some new, very large players. Where Cisco and Lucent go, so go other large networking firms with significant installed bases, established brand loyalties, and the ability to virtually dictate standards. It is not unrealistic to see a day where storage is a commodity subset of networking technology. The network giants see the value in investing time and money into storage infrastructures; they may also end up accepting a very real truth, that storage networking is, in fact, networking. A latter day case of what political scientists call "manifest destiny."
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Title Annotation:Company Business and Marketing
Author:Ferelli, Mark
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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