ServersHardware Today: Turning on SAN Switches

Hardware Today: Turning on SAN Switches

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Storage-area network (SAN) switches are the heart of every SAN. Fibre Channel (FC) cables from the servers connect to switches and from there to disk arrays, thus enabling many servers to store data on one or more disk arrays.

SAN switches are at the heart of every SAN. From Brocade to McData to Cisco, we take the industry’s pulse.


The explosion in storage demand has made for a healthy  SAN switch market as of late. According to Dell’Oro Group, SAN switch revenue rose from just under $1 billion in 2002 to $1.1 billion in 2003 and almost $1.3 billion last year. Tam Dell’Oro, an analyst at Dell’Oro Group, sees this growth in demand as having multiple dimensions.


“Existing users on SANs are increasing the amount of backup they require and want to back up to multiple locations,” says Dell’Oro. “In addition, the number of users is rising due to legislation that holds them accountable for retaining certain information. That’s forcing them to contact the storage department to ask to be put on the storage network.”


Brocade Rules 


The undisputed SAN switch market leader is Brocade, which has  47.4 percent market share, followed by McData,  with  28.6 percent share and Cisco (with 14.9 percent). Brocade believes  the transition to 4 Gbit per seconnd FC switches is the big news in the storage world, and it offers a complete family of 4 Gbit per second  switches from entry-level to enterprise SANs. The Brocade SilkWorm 200E SAN is a 4 Gb entry and departmental switch with eight  to 16 ports. The Brocade SilkWorm 4100 was the industry’s first 4 Gbit per second midrange SAN switch. It is available in configurations of 16, 24, and 32 ports. At the high-end, the Brocade SilkWorm 48000 is a 4 Gbit per second switch that supports up to 256 ports

In addition to new 4 Gb technology, Brocade’s vice president of worldwide marketing, Tom Buiocchi, notes that more vendors are embedding SAN switches into blade servers. The company has released 4 Gbit per second switches for blade servers through OEM partners such as IBM, Dell, and HP.

To maximize the benefits of server consolidation via blade servers, an increasing number of chassis have been equipped with integrated SAN switch modules,” says Buiocchi.

McData Directs

Although  Brocade rules the broad market, McData leads at the high end. Known as SAN directors, the term “Director” applies only to the very largest SAN switches with the highest number of ports and the most robust failover features. McData claims a 44 percent share of director-level switches.

“For the high-end market, the trend is toward more intelligence in the SAN fabric,” says Tom Clark, director of solutions and technologies at McData. “Auxiliary technologies, such as storage virtualization, are being deployed in the data center to enable more flexibility is managing storage resources, and reduction of day-to-day operational costs.”   

McData provides a 256 port-SAN director, the Intrepid 10000 series.  This product line offers 99.999 perecent availability, 10 Gbps interswitch links, and the capability to subdivide the director into independent SAN partitions shared between multiple data center applications. The company also provides a 140-port director, the Intrepid 6140.

Clark is seeing the emergence of embedded SAN blade switches, along with products optimized for the midtier market, including inexpensively priced  SANs that take advantage of iSCSI.  McData’s Sphereon 4400 product line, for example, is a compact 4 Gbps switch that scales from eight to 16 ports.

“Lower cost and simplicity of installation are making SANs a viable alternative for the midtier,” says Clark. “We are also seeing the integration of server platforms and SAN connectivity in the form of blade servers and blade SAN switches.” 

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