Cisco, Hitachi and Sprint team for data replication

Sprint Communications Co. LP and Hitachi Data Systems Ltd. along with their strategic partner Cisco Systems Inc. on Tuesday said they have successfully tested asynchronous data replication over an Internet Protocol (IP) network by using Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), allowing data replication to occur over a longer distance.

FCIP transmits Fibre Channel information through a process of tunneling data over the IP network and replicates the data in the storage area network (SAN) in the event of a disaster. Fibre Channel tunneling or storage tunneling is an IP-based storage networking technology that was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

According to Sprint, a test was conducted using the FCIP connection from its labs in Overland Park, Kan. and Burlingame, Calif. The test created a continuous loop between the two, creating a point-to-point connection spanning 5,832 kilometres (3,600 miles).

Cisco’s MDS 9000 SAN switches with its MDS 9000 IP Storage Services modules along with Hitachi’s Freedom Storage Lightning 9900 V Series and TrueCopy data replication software were all used alongside Sprint’s private circuits to conduct the test.

Data replication applications include propagating data from one location to another and real-time data warehousing for inventory or stocking issues. One of the advantages of data replication being touted by Sprint is the idea of business continuity, enabling updated data to be transmitted to a second location in the event of a disaster. Data can then be restored on a back-up system so that businesses could continue to operate with minimal interruption.

Although Sprint said its business unit is currently examining the cost of delivering the technology as a service, it has no immediate plans to offer it to customers. And according to one industry analyst, Sprint’s proposed asynchronous approach will have to play catch-up in the market.

Colin Rankine, vice-president of research at Forrester Research Inc. in Norwalk, Conn., said approximately 90 per cent of IBM Corp., EMC Corp. and Hitachi customers continue to use traditional tape or disk methods for data back-up. He said there are several reasons why traditional methods may still work best.

“The replication solutions are very complex to manage and the Sprint announcement really doesn’t address that,” he said.

For example, a second redundant site requires software licensing, redundant hardware and the “perpetual” telecommunications expense, which Rankine said could range from anywhere between US$50,000 to US$80,000 per month for multiple T-3 lines. In addition, Rankine said to set up and maintain a data replication session itself is a challenging task for the data centre manager to handle on a day-to-day basis based on the all the networking requirements needed to monitor the system.

He added that Sprint is attempting to broaden its market appeal beyond the largest 20 financial institutes and Fortune 100 companies by offering long-distance disk replication “by driving the cost down.” This would allow customers to pay by the mile for their high-speed data links, Rankine said.

North York, Ont.-based Sprint Canada Inc. is online at Cisco Systems Canada Co. in Toronto is at In Mississauga, Ont., Hitachi Canada Ltd. is at