Experts talk SAN sage; squelch rumours

Kumar Malavalli knows a thing or two about data networking. He spent 25 years working in the electrical engineering field here in Canada. In 1995 he slipped south of the border to co-found Brocade Communications Systems Inc., a network storage firm in San Jose. He helped develop the fibre channel protocol, which connects storage area network (SAN) elements together. He’s also an advisory board member with Kasten Chase Applied Research Ltd., a data security firm in Mississauga, Ont.

Malavalli returned to Toronto recently and sat down with Network World Canada Senior Writer Stefan Dubowski, along with Kasten Chase’s senior vice-president Hari Venkatacharya. The trio talked about SAN security, the future of the SAN market, the nature of competition and a ghost bearing Cisco Systems Inc.’s logo in Brocade’s wiring closet.

NW: In 2000 Brocade had a deal with Cisco. Brocade was supposed to develop a fibre channel/IP blade server for Cisco’s Catalyst switches, but the deal fell apart. What happened?

Malavalli: “Brocade, including myself, believes in the right protocol, fibre channel. It was invented to take care of all the stringent requirements of storage, designed for it.…Cisco wanted to blindly go with IP.…It was a difference in philosophy. We didn’t want to go any further. We said, ‘Okay, let’s stop here and let the market decide.'”

NW: According to a Network World(U.S.) article, Brocade’s blade server worked only with Brocade devices and that’s why Cisco walked away.

Malavalli: “That’s a little bit misconstrued. The issue was over E-port…a port that connects under the switch. We were the only ones who had implemented E-port at that stage. Cisco hadn’t got there yet.”

NW: What does the E-port do?

Malavalli: “An element of very large networks is distribution….You probably have one switch on one floor and another switch on another floor. How do you connect them? Through the E-port.”

NW: Cisco recently announced plans to tackle the SAN market with Andiamo, a company it incubated and purchased. What do you think of Cisco’s SAN move?

Malavalli: “It’s wonderful news for Brocade. We are vindicated. A year ago when we said, ‘Storage is important; fibre channel is important,’ Cisco didn’t believe it….Now Cisco is coming around to say, ‘We believe the storage market is going to be huge and fibre channel is here to stay.’ Well, we told them so. They’re validating the market. And it keeps us honest. We need the competition.”

NW: Aren’t you worried that Cisco will take over this space?

Malavalli: “No.…Cisco is not a storage expert. They’re very big in networking and the Internet. We invented fibre channel. And…just because Cisco says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a product,’ doesn’t mean customers are going to switch out all their Brocade devices – unless we make a big mistake, or Cisco comes up with a product magnitudes better.”

NW: What are some of the issues surrounding SAN security?

Malavalli: “When storage area networks first came into existence, they were very small – just a few gigabytes stored, a couple of servers and that was it. When the network grew larger and more users were added, security became an issue. It’s easy to manage if it’s just one switch and two users. When it became larger than that…the size itself compromised security.”

NW: What do you mean?

Malavalli: “When it’s large, you don’t know who’s doing what. You have to know your data is secure. The second thing is, the more you store the more the network changes. Instead of being directly attached to the server, storage was moved to become an element on the network. With that, the paranoia of security came in… People were nervous about storing their data elsewhere.”

NW: How did SAN builders tackle the problem?

Malavalli: “We came up with this concept of ‘zoning.’ It was a first step…. Zoning is the creation of virtual, private groups.”

NW: Like a virtual local area network, but with storage?

Malavalli: “It’s just like a virtual LAN. But the problem with that, although it gave us some sense of security, it didn’t prevent anyone ‘masquerading’ (borrowing another user’s address for access). It’s not foolproof.…You have to do some sort of authentication and encryption.”

NW: Is this the sort of thing Kasten Chase does?

Malavalli: “Yes. Kasten Chase is the leader in address security, data-in-transit security and PKI (public key infrastructure).”

Venkatacharya: “This whole sense of establishing trust between storage component devices had never been done before. That’s what we brought to the table.”

NW: Hari, talk about your role in Kasten Chase.

Venkatacharya: “We were a company called Karthika Technologies, just acquired by Kasten Chase this April. We started off by developing advanced encryption technology and moved up the value chain to develop security solutions and solutions for SAN. As Kumar alluded to, this is only a first step. There are many more things we’re thinking about and architecting as we speak.”

NW: Kumar, how did you become a Kasten Chase advisory board member?

Malavalli: “After the successful IPO of Brocade (1999), I was responsible for the products, the solutions for the network. But I wanted to move on to the next level, the ‘ecosystem.’ It goes beyond the solution; it’s a dynamic that keeps evolving. When I looked at the SAN ecosystem, I saw a lot of holes. Security was one of them.…I turned my attention to creating the SAN ecosystem by mentoring and investing in new start-ups.

“I happened to meet Hari and Dr. Kumar (Murty, founder of Karthika).…After several conversations, I told them they have to go beyond the tools. You have to look for solutions and a killer application. What is the killer application in storage? SAN.…I told them if they became part of the solution, as opposed to just a security tool, I would become a part of that.

“I became an investor. Now after the acquisition of Karthika by Kasten Chase, they asked me to be a member of the advisory board.”

NW: Where is the SAN market headed?

Venkatacharya: “We were talking this morning about this whole storage service provider market and how it collapsed after huge amounts of investment. We think there will be a tremendous resurgence with cable and telcos.”

NW: Cable and telephone companies will become storage service providers?

Malavalli: “[Early storage service providers] didn’t want the plumbing. They still had to lease the remote backup lines from telcos. They were the middlemen, no margins. Now it’s turning around. There’s a new breed of storage service provider emerging as we speak. Telcos are using their own infrastructure and getting help from others. That’s where a company such as Kasten Chase can help them implement security. Other ecosystem companies can offer other solutions, so they have a robust solution with themselves as the ones who won the deal.”