Cisco Systems and SAN switch maker Brocade Communication Systems last week announced a technology exchange agreement that will result in products designed to link disparate SAN "islands".
The companies plan to develop products to connect storage area networks across IP-based metropolitan area networks (MAN) and WANs. The products will tunnel Fibre Channel protocols through IP packets and bridge Fibre Channel SANs across Cisco wave division multiplexing (WDM) gear, the companies said.
The arrangement links two industry leaders in their respective market segments.
Brocade has a 90 per cent share of the Fibre Channel switching market, while Cisco is the market share leader in LAN switching and IP routing. Cisco, however, is a newcomer to the WDM market, having entered it within the past year via acquisition.
Connecting remote SANs will not only enable the deployment of SANs spanning multiple remote physical locations, but will make possible new types of applications that previously could not be implemented over long distances, such as disaster recovery, remote data replication, remote data backup and digital content distribution, the companies said.
In the first phase of the multiphase technology agreement, the two companies will jointly develop a WAN interface for Cisco's Catalyst 6000 line of multi-layer switches that will encapsulate Fibre Channel in IP for transmission at 155Mbps OC-3 rates. Native Fibre Channel runs at 1.8Gbps.
"The technical challenge will be to encapsulate at very high speeds," says James Richardson, senior vice president of Cisco's Enterprise line of business.
In addition, Brocade and Cisco said they would certify interoperability between Brocade SilkWorm Fibre Channel switches and Cisco dense WDM products used in fibre-optic MANs. Cisco and Brocade also have agreed to develop other switch-to-switch connection products in the future supporting a variety of high-speed network interfaces.
All products resulting from this agreement will be compliant with ANSI T11 standards, the companies said. The first products are expected in the first half of 2001.
Fibre Channel encapsulation and SilkWorm/dense wave division multiplexing interoperability are two prongs of a three-pronged "tactical" entry into the SAN market for Cisco, Richardson says. The third prong is to agree on "several emerging standards" for network storage, including the SCSI over TCP proposal Cisco and IBM jointly submitted to the Internet Engineering task Force, and native IP support for storage applications, Richardson said.
Cisco does not yet have a strategic plan for participating in the SAN market, he said. The market will decide how Cisco will craft a strategic SAN entry, Richardson said.