Cisco clears route for network storage

Cisco Systems Inc. has dipped its toe further into the storage business with the introduction of a router for enterprise departments and small- to medium-sized businesses that works in IP and Fibre Channel networks.

The Cisco SN 5428 Storage Router transports SCSI data over Ethernet networks, allowing workgroups to easily migrate from direct-attached or server-attached storage to network and Fibre Channel storage-area network (SAN) storage, said Doug Ingraham, Minneapolis-based senior manager of marketing for Cisco’s storage technology group.

Since research shows that in the workgroup SAN space the network storage person and system administrator are usually the same person, Ingraham said that the 5428 “presents to the user as though it were more of an IP network.” For example, he said, it is managed with SNMP, uses IPSec for storage security, and is able to enforce quality of service (QoS). In addition, the switch supports the authentication protocols TACACS+ and RADIUS and users can configure the 5428 in a virtual LAN (VLAN) configuration.

“These are things that network administrators are familiar with from setting up things like bridges and routers and switches, so we’re trying to bring them a frame of reference they can understand if they don’t have much exposure to storage networking and SANs,” he said.

Alan Koisnan, technical research leader for data storage management company Datapeer Inc. in Fort Lee, N.J., has beta tested the SN 5428. He sees great value in it because it doesn’t require him to train people on the difficult-to-learn Fibre Channel protocol.

“The beauty of the 5428 is that you able to take advantage of existing management systems,” Koisnan says. “You save dramatically from a cost point of view because you are using a very cost effective IP technology. In some cases, we’ve saved as much as 80 per cent to 90 per cent.” Plus, Koisnan said the people handling the network configuration also monitor the storage.

“We are converging storage and networking together, so we can use one network administrator for most tasks. “Particularly if you are talking about a midsized company where they may have only a few administrators, that’s an important advantage.”

Last spring Cisco released a gateway device that connected Fibre Channel storage devices over an IP network, so the 5428 is the company’s second foray into the storage over IP, said John Athens, a Halifax-based networking analyst and consultant. A second offering in this space is a clear sign that Cisco is serious about the expanding storage networking market, he said.

Athens also said that although this router seems well designed for workgroups, storage in general has a long way to go before it becomes as plug-and-play as traditional Ethernet networking.

“It’s pretty easy for someone who doesn’t have a hardcore networking background to put together and mange [an Ethernet workgroup], but storage is not that way today. I think Cisco’s challenge is to take the simplicity of traditional enterprise networks and employ that to a very complex way of deploying storage.”

The Cisco SN 5428 works with Windows, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and several types of Linux. It is available now globally and is list priced at US$11,995. For more information, visit