Just as Brocade Communications Systems Inc. is expanding into the port-dense chassis-based switch market, rival McData Corp. is extending its reach downward this week into small and mid-size businesses with the introduction of a four- to 12-port Fibre Channel switch.

The Sphereon 4300 Fabric Switch is McData’s new entry-level switch. It starts at four ports and can be expanded to 12 ports in four-port increments. In addition, McData has added the ability for the Spherion 4300 to be hot-code loaded and activated; with its HotCAT architecture, customers can make firmware changes and add new versions of software automatically and run them on the switch without taking down operations.

“You can add ports in a modular way, so basically it’s expandable in small increments,” says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst with the Yankee Group. “The Sphereon 4300 positions McData to go after the entry-level and workgroup SAN market.”

For instance, a customer could add in a backup device into a storage area network (SAN) without having to buy a larger, fixed-port switch.

“You either have to buy a fixed-number port switch and use all the ports, or you find you have some very inflexible options in the low-end market,” Gruener says.

The Sphereon 4300 Fabric Switch will be available immediately, starting at under US$600 per Fibre Channel port. It is capable of being managed by McData’s SANpilot and SANavigator management software.