Cisco Systems has announced that IBM will be its first reseller of a new line of switches that marks its foray into the Fibre Channel marketplace. The move sounds a loud bell in the mounting fight for billions of dollars in market share with industry leaders Brocade Communications Systems, McData and Inrange Technologies.
The US-based reseller relationship with IBM looks to be key in Cisco's plan to be the No. 1 vendor of the entire networking stack, from servers to storage.
"Cisco really just nailed the biggest computer company in the world," said Peter Gerr, a research analyst at Enterprise Storage Group. "The impact to Brocade, McData and Inrange could be as early as two quarters away, depending upon the pricing and how aggressively IBM goes out and sells the product."
"Cisco will need other partners for sure, but it gets access to all the IBM resellers, which are huge. They ship about half of IBM's storage," said John McArthur, a research analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. EMC is also currently testing the Cisco switches. According to an EMC spokesman, "We'll announce availability for our customers pending final qualification."
IBM, which would not disclose pricing information, said it is currently testing the switches with its hardware and plans to begin selling them by the end of the first quarter. IBM will start by hawking the Cisco MDS 9216 switch and the MDS 9509 director -- a larger, fully redundant switch.
Besides Fibre Channel, the switches support emerging networking protocols such as Fibre Channel over IP and SCSI over IP.
"We certainly see customers wanting to expand their SAN [storage-area network] environments beyond their traditional data center for business continuity and disaster recovery planning," said Bill Erdman, director of marketing for Cisco's technology group. "Hopefully, we'll get into a market growth period here."
Cisco's Multilayer DataCenter Switch (MDS) 9000 family of storage switches and directors came through the company's buyout of Andiamo Systems Inc. in April 2001. The switches come with 1G or 2G bit/sec. data transfer rates and come with up to 48 ports on the MDS 9216 switch and 256 ports on the 9509 director.
Roland Hagan, vice president of marketing for midmarket and midrange products at IBM, said that while the nascent storage-over-IP marketplace won't likely spur sales of the switches, "it will be interesting to see if a new offering such as this will potentially accelerate storage-area network adoption and the convergence of [Fibre Channel and IP].
"At the same time, the Cisco product is a today product. It serves the open systems environment for an all Fibre Channel-attached storage. We expect we'll sell the product immediately," Hagan said. "This is not a case of waiting for technology to mature."
IBM already has reseller relationships with switch makers Brocade, McData and Inrange.
Brocade, which in 2001 had 56 percent of the Fibre Channel switch marketplace, according to IDC, had little to say about today's announcement.
"Brocade and IBM look forward to expanding our long-standing relationship and continuing to deliver enhanced SAN manageability, scalability and availability to our mutual customers," the company said in an e-mail response.