Cisco announces new storage virtualization module

Von Lucas Mearian

Cisco Systems Inc. is upgrading its line of multiprotocol storage switches to allow partner vendors to port their storage management software to a line card that enables across storage-area networks (SAN) functions such as long-distance data replication, volume management and point-in-time copies.

Cisco said Thursday that Version 2.1 of the operating system for its MDS line of switches is based on open standards and includes the Fabric Application Interface Specification (FAIS), an application programming interface that allows other storage vendors to host their applications on a special chip on the card.

For example, virtualization technology found in IBM Corp."s SAN Volume Controller, Veritas Software Corp."s Storage Foundation software and EMC Corp."s upcoming Storage Router can be ported to Cisco"s new line card. That will allow storage administrators to pool capacity from multivendor storage arrays. The Storage Services Module is a 32-port line card with an application-specific integrated circuit that can reside on either MDS 9200 or MDS 9500 series storage switches.

Michael Passe, senior storage architect for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, has two Cisco 9500 switches on his 50TB SAN. He said he is looking forward to using the new service module to port Veritas" Extended Copy feature to perform backup-and-restore functions on behalf of host servers. That will offload I/O and CPU work from his application servers.

Passe, who uses all EMC storage on the hospital"s back end, also likes the virtualization aspect of the new service module.

"It"s not EMC. It"s not Veritas. It"s not Microsoft. It"s now in the (network) and virtualized. The host doesn"t know or care whose application it is," he said.

Passe said he runs into a lot of vendor support issues with host-based software. "When we have a technical support problem, you have three vendors involved to try to solve the problem. I think this solves that "single throat to choke" issue," Passe said.

He also likes the switch"s bandwidth -- 320 I/O per second and 16GB/sec. throughput, which he said ensures that there will be no bottlenecks in his storage network. By porting storage applications to its switch, Cisco claims users can improve I/O by up to 10 times.

Cisco said its Storage Services Module also offers routing between SANs for consolidation. The function, which Cisco calls the Network Address Translator, places a layer of abstraction between SANs, allowing data to be routed over long distances for disaster recovery and business continuity.

Arun Taneja, founder of research firm Taneja Group Inc. in Hopkinton, Mass., gave Cisco"s Storage Services Module high marks for taking services that had been ported to blades in the switch and placing them on a common module. He also said Cisco is the one driving storage management functionality in the network, because other storage switch makers are beholden to their channel partners.

"Fundamentally, Cisco is not subservient to the channel-partner issues that those other (storage switch vendors) are. Brocade and McData ship most of their products through EMC, IBM, HP, etc. ... Until those companies drive the push toward intelligence in the network, none of these guys are going to be able to ship too much," Taneja said.

Cisco said the Storage Services Module will be sold at a 25 percent premium over Cisco"s standard 32-port line card by resellers.