Cisco Gets Serious About Fibre Channel Switches

New switches are expected to put price pressure on market leaders such as Brocade and McData.
Cisco Systems Inc. hopes to do to storage what it did to networking. Networking routers were once expensive and hidden deep inside severs. Cisco made them standalone devices and a commodity at the heart of an IP network.

Cisco now is trying to do the same thing with switches and higher-end traffic directors that work at the center of Fibre Channel-based storage-area networks. Brocade Communications Corp. and McData Corp. now provide most of those switches and directors. But here comes Cisco. The networking company will unveil new Fibre Channel switches and software on Tuesday that, according to analysts, are sure to shake up the market.

The Cisco MDS 9100 series of switches are a bit more than an inch high and contain 20 to 40 ports. The MDS 9120 is designed for a small, start-up SAN. The more robust MDS 9140 is designed to help customers connect existing SANs. Both come with the SAN-OS v. 1.2 software for zoning and read-only security, policy-based administration, and remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. Cisco wouldn't reveal pricing; leading storage vendors selling the new switches will set the prices.

The new Cisco switches are expected to drive the price of low-end switches even lower, putting pressure on other vendors. "These products are in Brocade's face," says Jamie Gruener, an analyst at Yankee Group. "This will create better bargaining power for customers." Today, low-end Fibre Channel switches cost as much as $1,000 per port.

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