Cisco unveils company’s first storage product

Applying it’s IP networking savvy to the advancement of IP storage technology, Cisco Systems Inc. last month introduced its first storage product, the Cisco SN 5420 storage router.

Mark Cree, the general manager of Cisco’s storage router business unit, said the new router will enable the convergence of networking systems and storage systems through common IP protocols like iSCSI.

“The next big wave of storage industry growth is likely going to be the deployment of IP-based storage,” according to Ashok Kumar, an industry analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, in Menlo Park, Calif.

With direct IP access to storage, companies will be able to break the geographical restrictions of current Fibre Channel storage architectures, save money by no longer having to add storage with expensive Fibre Channel relays, and simplify the deployment of storage across multiple operating systems, according to those familiar with the technology.

“The 5420 is not just a point solution, it’s a way of offering universal access to storage and data from anywhere,” Cree said.

Available now, the Cisco SN 5420 retails for US$27,000, according to Cree.

“We are also taking an evangelistic stance in our effort to accelerate the adoption of IP storage in the market place,” said Cree, adding that Cisco will open source the router’s code to speed the development of IP drivers and other devices.

Partnering will also play an important role in the adoption of the 5420. To ensure industry-wide adoption of IP storage along common lines of development, Cisco will work with a variety of companies like Fibre Channel switch company Brocade Communications Systems Inc., disk storage giant EMC Corp. and storage management software company Veritas Software Corp., to name only a few.

“No company can go into a new market alone,” Cree said.

Early news of Cisco’s IP router sent a tremor through the Fibre Channel switch industry. Fibre Channel relays have enabled most of the world’s current SAN configurations, but Fibre Channel switch technology has been under attack recently by companies like Nishan Systems Inc. and now Cisco with products that route storage data from Fibre to less-expensive IP relays like iSCSI and Ethernet, leaving the Fibre Channel fabric investment intact while replacing only the switches.

Critics argue that IP bandwidth limitations hinder IP storage performance, but Cree said Cisco has been “pleasantly surprised” by the performance of the 5420.

“With the current solutions we’re running, we virtually see no difference [in IP performance] from 1Gbps Fibre Channel,” Cree said. “With applications like Oracle, [IP] is virtually identical in performance to 1Gbps Fibre Channel. You can move storage over IP and get comparable performance [to Fibre Channel].”

Part of the reason for the IP’s performance is iSCSI, a de facto IP standard that has matured quickly due to its ability to transfer block data via IP. Until recently, block data transfer has been Fibre Channel’s forte almost exclusively.

“As a standard, iSCSI needs to go through a formal adoption process, which should happen by the end of the year,” Cree said.

IP relays can exceed Fibre’s average 100-metre distance limitation by easily sending data over the World Wide Web. However, Internet traffic can create latency in IP data transfers, something Cisco can do little about, said Cree.

“[The 5420] doesn’t solve problems with IP transfers over long distances, but does guarantee delivery,” Cree said.

Because of IP latency problems, Cisco officials will not call IP an end-all storage solution. Instead, the company will also promote TCIP, Metro Optical and Fibre Channel over IP data relay methods, Cree said.

Cisco will also leverage its acquisition of NuSpeed by essentially converting NuSpeed’s sales force into a dedicated IP storage sales team for Cisco IP storage products, Cree said. “Cisco has a very big commitment to being in [the storage] space,” he added.