Unlike other IT market segments, Cisco's storage channel, with a handful of exceptions, consists of original storage manufacturers, or OSM, which are large vendors including EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems and IBM. The OSMs in turn sell the company's SAN switches to their direct accounts or through their solution providers.
That layer of separation from its storage solution providers is not stopping the company from getting them certified as storage networking specialists, said Edison Peres, Cisco vice president of advanced technologies, worldwide channels.
The specialization came about as a result of the need to bring advanced networking capabilities to the storage networking world, said Keith Zubchevich, director of operations for storage and optical products, worldwide channels.
Solution providers are the key ways to integrate and customize multi-protocol and multi-vendor storage solutions with integrated network intelligence, said Zubchevich. "We're working on what storage networking can be," he said.
For example, Zubchevich said that conventional wisdom requires separate physical zones in order to segment the storage fabric, whereas Cisco offers VSAN, which can set up virtual zones. Without VSAN, "customers end up building SAN islands, and have increased security issues and problems with building isolated physical networks," he said. "We did the same with our VLAN products for IP networking technology."
Zubchevich also said that with the right help customers can build SANs with iSCSI and other protocols, and not just Fibre Channel, or with such transport technologies as IP and optical networks. "They can bring inexpensive Windows servers into the enterprise," he said.
In addition to building intelligent storage networks, the Cisco storage specialization also helps channel partners work with customers on finding the right management tools, including tools to manage aspects of such storage networking concerns as performance management and application management, Peres said.
"We have tools to allow measurement and analysis of SAN performance, and allow customers to set levels of quality of service that could never be done before in storage," Peres said. "These things have been available in IP networking for years."
Prerequisites for solution providers getting Cisco's storage networking specialization include being a Cisco registered partner as well as having individuals on staff with account manager, system engineer, and field engineer responsibilities.