Cisco Brings Networking Intelligence, Interoperability to Storage Area Networks
Support for third-party applications, open standards moves SAN market forward
March 10, 2005
History is repeating itself. A once proprietary technology market is becoming open, standards-based and far more sophisticated. That was the story when Cisco Systems stepped into the Internet Protocol (IP) networking business. And now the same thing is happening as Cisco brings its expertise to the data storage marketplace.
Storage area networks, or SANs, are vital to organizations as a means to back up, store and protect the increasing volumes of information that run on data networks. But SANs haven't evolved in the same way as data networks. In many respects, they are a few years behind today's IP communications systems. And like pre-Internet data networks, SANs have suffered from a fractionalized market divided by proprietary technologies. The lack of interoperability among propriety storage tools has made data storage expensive and difficult. But Cisco is helping change that by bringing the same approach to storage networks that it brought to data networks.
This month, Cisco announced a new round of hardware and software products that will further develop open standards and interoperability for the SAN market, resulting in lower costs and greater choices for organizations looking to better preserve and protect their vital information. News@Cisco recently spoke with Soni Jiandani, vice president and general manager of the Switching & Storage Technologies Group, about the company's innovations in networked storage and what they mean to the market.
What new technology is Cisco introducing for networking storage?
Soni Jiandani: The announcement involves both hardware and software that support intelligent fabric applications. Intelligent fabric applications refer to advanced storage management capabilities such as data replication, point-in-time copy, continuous data protection, and backup/recovery functions. On the hardware side, the most significant announcement is our new MDS 9000 Storage Services Module, a specialized line card that supports third-party storage applications for our family of SAN directors and fabric switches. SAN directors and fabric switches play similar roles in storage networks as routers and switches do in data networks. With the new Storage Services Module, these devices will offer organizations even more options and capabilities for their data storage by providing exceptional levels of scalability, performance, and flexibility.
As part of this announcement, we are also releasing SAN-OS 2.1, the operating system for our MDS 9000 line of directors and fabric switches. The updated software provides support for the new Fabric Application Interface Specification (FAIS) API, as well as the SANTap protocol. Both greatly improve the ability of third-parties to develop applications that are hosted within the network, providing a central point of management for easier and less expensive administration.
How will Cisco's new storage products and technologies help businesses?
Soni Jiandani: Currently, management and administration can be well over 50 percent of the total cost of a SAN throughout its life span. That's partly because of the legacy of proprietary products for data storage but also because SAN management historically involved a number of manually intensive tasks. Prior to Cisco's entry into the market, organizations often had to build SANs to support data for individual applications, forcing them to run multiple SAN "islands," each requiring its own management overhead.
So our efforts are focused on making it less expensive and less complicated for organizations to store and protect their data. And by improving these two factors, more companies will store more of their data, helping better protect their businesses from disasters, security concerns, or network problems. With our network-hosted storage applications, companies can now have a single point of management while using storage area networks that offer many of the same sophisticated performance and feature options available today on data networks.
How do Cisco's new products and technologies set it apart from other vendors in the SAN market?
Soni Jiandani: One of the things we are most proud of is our work in advancing storage networking standards to promote greater interoperability and flexibility for data storage technologies. We have authored or co-authored several standards including Virtual SANs (VSANs) and the Fibre Channel Security Protocol (FC-SP). With this announcement, we are advancing SAN interoperability further with support for the FAIS API and the SANTap protocol, both of which support network-based intelligent fabric applications. We are the first company to offer products with this kind of support, which will make it far easier for third-parties to create applications for running and managing network storage, such as network-based volume management, remote replication, continuous data protection, and serverless backup. An impressive group of software vendors are developing applications to work with our MDS SAN switch Storage Services Module. These companies include EMC, IBM, and Veritas, which are making applications that are hosted directly on our module. FalconStor, X10tech, Topio, Kashya, Alacritus, and Cloverleaf are building applications that tap into the module for network-assisted functions via the SANTap protocol. And Computer Associates, CommVault and Veritas are creating network-accelerated serverless backup applications.
How is Cisco's experience in IP data networking helping it develop products for the SAN market?
Soni Jiandani: We're approaching the SAN market as we did the IP networking market, with high performance components that use open, standards-based technologies. One thing is certain; our customers do not like proprietary products that lock them into using only one vendor or technology. We offer customers choices so they can match their application requirements to the most cost-effective SAN connectivity option. For example, we are the only SAN switch vendor to offer fully integrated support for the major SAN transport protocols, including Fibre Channel for core data center applications, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) for long distance SAN extension, Internet SCSI (iSCSI) for cost-effective SAN expansion, and Fiber Connector (FICON) for mainframe connectivity. And we provide support for virtual SANs, which make it possible for network managers to logically partition their storage so similar data can be grouped together. And thanks to our industry leading expertise in network security, we have been able to imbue our storage products with the most comprehensive security support in the industry. Regardless of which storage protocol an organization uses, Cisco equipment can protect their data. Together, all these innovations are helping develop the Cisco Business Ready Data Center, our comprehensive architectural approach to data center design and management.