SANbox 5200 introduces stackable switches

SANbox 5200 introduces stackable switches

There are some ingenious ideas that make people slap their foreheads and ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” QLogic built the SANbox 5200, its new Fibre Channel (FC) switch around one such idea: applying the concept of stackable switches, quite common in the Ethernet world, to the FC world to aid in SAN management and configuration.

The SANbox 5200 has great scalability. It can expand from eight to 16 ports, each running at 2Gb, with a simple, nondisruptive license-key update. In addition, like other FC switches, the SB5200 can easily expand your fabric by interconnecting other units.

You can pile up a maximum of four units to scale from eight to 64 ports but unlike other FC switches, the SB5200 offers dedicated 10Gb ports for ISLs (inter-switch links), which preserves all its native 2Gb ports for applications.

This may seem a minor manufacturing detail until you consider what it would take to build a network with the equivalent number of ports using traditional switches. For instance, in a properly configured mesh of six 16-port switches, those ISLs account for 30 ports — leaving only 66 ports available for applications.

Setup Made Simple

Even if we set the cost at a dirt-cheap $600 per port, maintaining those connections proves to be quite expensive. Moreover, you are likely to end up with messy, spaghetti-like connections between switches.

By contrast, the SB5200 offers a more elegant and economic solution to connect multiple switches into a fabric, which puts this innovative switch in a class of its own: You can buy exactly the ports needed to connect servers and devices without sacrificing any to ISLs.

Because I wanted a full four-switch stack to test the SANBox 5200, QLogic made available a dedicated test room on their premises, including a Windows 2000 server on IBM hardware and two storage arrays. The SANbox 5200 itself has a very clean 1U chassis with all the ports neatly aligned on the front of the unit. This simplifies routing cables when multiple units are stacked and rack-mounted.

In addition to the 16+4 FC ports (16 2Gb ports for devices and servers and four 10Gb ports for ISLs), the SANbox 5200 also has one power connector, one Ethernet port, and one serial port for management.

The SANbox 5200 clearly targets entry-level customers, so it’s no surprise that QLogic tried to make installation and maintenance as easy as possible. In that spirit, the new version of SANBox Manager, the management application for QLogic switches, includes a wizard that facilitates the initial setup for less technical users.

For instance, to set the initial IP address, the wizard offers bootp and other techniques that don’t require the administrator to use the command line interface (CLI). I never had to leave the GUI to set up my units; SANbox Manager Wizard collected all the first-time information, such as IP address, password, and domain; it then suggested power-cycling the switch to activate the new configuration via bootp.

It’s comforting to know that the configuration of the SANbox 5200 can still be done using CLI and the serial port or Telnet, but I touched neither during my test. In addition, when I connected two storage arrays and two servers to the fabric, the switch immediately recognised the devices and they appeared, properly identified, in my GUI.

The new GUI also makes zoning extremely easy to configure, which is probably the most baffling aspect of FC for an apprentice guru. I was able to create, modify, or delete zones on the fly and populate each zone intuitively, dragging and dropping servers and devices on the GUI screen. Setting up an FC switch doesn’t get easier than this.

Stacking and Linking

When satisfied with the first switch’s configuration, I moved to one of the servers. Its QLogic HBA had already acquired volumes from the array in its zone; I started an Iometer script to emulate application traffic.

I was now ready to add other units to the fabric. QLogic mounts the Intel XPAK optical transceiver for the SANbox 5200’s 10Gb ports, which makes for some bulky connections. I used 3-inch- and 9-inch-long cables to connect the switches; that short length is adequate if switches are set on top of each other as they should be.

To link the first two switches, I used two XPAK connectors, but the best connection for three- and four-switch stacks may not be so intuitive.

Fortunately, the documentation clearly spells out how to make those connections to ensure enough redundancy and capacity to survive losing one link with minimal or no business impact.

After an easy SANbox Manager session, I had all four switches neatly configured. On my server, Iometer was still running unaware of and unaffected by the changes to the fabric.

Another SANbox GUI page offers a dynamic topology view with a clear picture of each box and its links. Changes and malfunctions are reflected immediately, making it easy to find problems. For example, when disconnecting one of the ISLs, the corresponding line on my screen immediately turned red to indicate the fault. Adding another link automatically drew a new line between the switches to show the new connection.

Event Filtering

The topology screens give an immediate clue when something is blatantly wrong, but only if you are watching. To review previous errors, the GUI offers easy access to the SANbox 5200 log, where events can be filtered according to common criteria. You can even export the log in XML format, which comes in handy for tasks such as creating a trend database.

After this first look, I must say that SANbox 5200’s innovative features intrigue me. Also intriguing is its price: In full configuration, with 16 2Gb ports and four 10Gb ports for ISLs, the SANbox 5200 costs just a notch below $US11,000. That’s a very competitive price.

User friendly, affordable, and innovative: these words are rarely associated with FC switches. With the SANbox 5200, QLogic creates a new breed of switch that finally makes FC SANs accessible to small and medium businesses.

Local information

The product is distributed in Australia by ACA Pacific.

RRP: The starting MSRP for the SANbox 5200 is $8049.

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