Cisco Systems today announced the release of a new iSCSI/Fibre Channel over IP storage router that industry experts say firmly points to the company's direction in the storage networking marketplace.
The Cisco SN 5428 storage router will allow workgroups and small businesses to create storage area networks (SAN) using a combination of Fibre Channel, gigabit Ethernet and SCSI over IP (iSCSI) protocols over an IP network.
The 5428 is Cisco's second foray into the storage over IP market. In April 2001, Cisco released the 5420, a gateway device that connected Fibre Channel storage devices over an IP network. That, said analysts, was a trial balloon into the Fibre Channel connectivity marketplace that proved to have few takers.
The 5428, priced at $US11,995, comes with two gigabit Ethernet ports, eight Fibre Channel ports and three management ports.
Tony Prigmore, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, said the 5428 router is a midpoint iteration between the 5420 and the upcoming release of a multiprotocol, highly intelligent storage switch from San Jose-based Andiamo Systems, a storage networking vendor that is mostly owned by Cisco. The Andiamo project, according to industry experts, is still in stealth mode.
"They're trying to rev up their credibility in storage networking," Prigmore said of Cisco's newest router.
Doug Ingraham, senior manager of marketing for Cisco's storage technology group, said the 5428 will allow servers in enterprise workgroups, which include corporate departments and small and medium businesses, to access consolidated storage in a SAN while allowing networking administrators to use "all the tools they were familiar with to set up and manage the network".
Benefits include easier management, more efficient storage and centralised backup, Ingraham said.
"It integrates both IP and Fibre Channel into the product, so servers can decide which technology [they] want to use," Ingraham said. "If you have high-performance servers that need ultra-high bandwidth or low latency, you can connect that to the Fibre Channel side."
Mike Kahn, chairman of The Clipper Group analytical firm, said Cisco's foray into the storage space is driven as by the evolution of iSCSI as much as anything else.
ISCSI takes SCSI data and commands and encapsulates them in IP packets for transport over networks. Cisco and other storage over IP vendors, such as San Jose-based Nishan Systems, are still awaiting the release of the iSCSI standard. It is expected to be out by the end of the third quarter.
Also, iSCSI network interface cards have yet to be released in quantity. Without such cards, the burden of offloading the TCP/IP commands belongs to the server -- eating up enormous amounts of CPU cycles.
Yet, Kahn said Cisco's new router "could ease some of the problems that are driven by direct-attached storage".
"What we're tackling here is the next tier of data [such as e-mail traffic] that needs to be maintained, but for whom laying a lot of Fibre Channel does not justify the expense," Kahn said.
Jamie Gruener, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said Cisco has done a good job of building a router specific to workgroups. But, Gruener said, "there's a lot of work left to be done".
"If you look at the way traditional Ethernet networking is done, it's very plug and play," he said. "It's easy for someone who doesn't have a lot of time or understanding of networking to do that. Storage is not that way today. I think Cisco's challenge is to take the simplicity of traditional enterprise networks and employ that to a very complex way of deploying storage."