McData ups ante in intelligent Fibre Channel switches

McData Corp.’s acquisition of Nishan Systems Inc. and Sanera Systems Inc. this week put them squarely in the middle of a select group of manufacturers including Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., which are embedding applications in their Fibre Channel switches.

The company’s acquisition of Nishan for US$83 million and Sanera for US$102 million cash will bolster not only McData’s director-level switching capabilities, but also add intelligent applications, iSCSI network support and Fibre Channel over IP distribution of data over geographic distances to its portfolio of products.

“The combination of Sanera with a great core switching architecture, as well as Nishan with is ability to do SAN routing, is beneficial,” says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst with the Yankee Group. “As customer SANs have gotten larger and larger, there has been a need for McData to figure out how they are going to deal with that issue.”

McData sees that adding application support to their switches will help them enable data movement and virtualization of storage within businesses. Virtualization is used to give a logical representation of disparate physical storage so it can be managed, allocated and monitored more easily.

Nishan, a vendor who was funded for US$90 million, manufactures Fibre Channel over IP, Internet Fibre Channel protocol and iSCSI products. Fibre Channel over IP allows users to distribute Fibre Channel data over the IP network. The Internet Fibre Channel Protocol converts Fibre Channel data to IP for transmittal over IP networks. The iSCSI protocol allows Fibre Channel data to be transported over the Ethernet network. McData claims it will integrate all of Nishan’s products into its line of director-level switches.

Sanera, on the other hand, manufactures a 256-port director-level Fibre Channel switch that can be partitioned into individual zones for easier and more secure management in enterprise-size businesses. The start-up, which was funded for US$101 million, makes the DS10000. McData will continue to market this product and over time will integrate its features into its own McData director-level switches.

McData is not the only company snapping up start-ups that make intelligent Fibre Channel switches. Last year Cisco acquired Andiamo for an estimated value of US$2 billion and Brocade bought Rhapsody for US$175 million. Earlier, Cisco, made its entry into storage with the acquisition of iSCSI gateway vendor NuSpeed. Of the vendors that make director-level Fibre Channel switches, only CNT/InRange has yet to acquire a company that will allow it to add intelligent applications to its products.

Competition in this market is also fierce as vendors attempt to jockey past each other for market share.

“The acquisition puts McData in a much better position to compete head on with Cisco,” Gruener says. “The architecture Brocade bought with Rhapsody solved one problem but not all the problems McData is going to be able to solve by doing these acquisitions.”

Further, McData announced that it has made a strategic investment in Aarohi Communications, a start-up that makes a storage processor it claims optimizes the performance of the Fibre Channel fabric. McData also reported net income of US$9.1 million for the second quarter compared to a loss last year of US$3.9 million. The company’s revenue increased to US$107 million from a previous US$77.3 million.