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Switch vendors agree on interoperability

The two leading manufacturers of fibre channel switch products announced last week that they have agreed on a standard code that will allow their rival products to communicate in storage-area networks (SANs).

Analysts say the move will make it easier for IT managers to tie together their legacy fibre channel networks to create larger and more controllable storage environments.

McData announced it had jointly developed the interoperability code with EMC and installed it in its director-class switch, the ED-5000, allowing the switch to communicate with network devices made by Brocade Communication Systems.

Brocade commands between 60-90% of the fibre channel switch marketplace, according to Giga Information Group.

All ED-5000 switches shipped from McData will contain the new code.

The initiative will benefit IT managers such as Edward Peters, supervisor of main server support for the city of Calgary, Alberta. Peters plans to expand a SAN that was built exclusively through Brocade 2800 switches, which carry far fewer connectivity ports per device than the director-class switch McData offers. The city's SAN stores 10TB of data on 20 Unix and Windows NT servers. "It gives us some choices now," he said. "We're growing quickly and want to move into a director-class switch this year."

Like a router on the Internet, a switch directs data traffic over a SAN, which is a sub-network dedicated to storage.

A director is a high-end switch that, unlike a switch with eight or 16 ports, has up to 64 ports and is completely redundant for increased reliability.

McData and EMC's new code has been accepted as a standard by the fibre channel standards working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Brocade is part of the organisation and helped develop the standard.

James Opfer, an analyst at Gartner Group's Dataquest subsidiary, said the "switch interoperability raises the bar for challenges to fibre channel's incumbency by emerging storage network technologies whose own interoperability is yet unproven."

"The big deal here is that Brocade and McData are working together, if not on a business level, on a technical one. That has historically been a challenge," said Giga analyst, Bob Zimmerman.

McData said the interoperability feature, dubbed E-Port, ties together Brocade's 16- and eight-port Silkworm switches, McData's ED-5000 enterprise director and EMC's Connectrix ED-1032 enterprise director and Connectrix DS-16B and DS-8B switches. EMC will also begin shipping products with the interoperability code immediately.

McData, which split off from EMC and went public in August, and Brocade each have reseller agreements with EMC. "From the perspective of the client with multiple SANs or ones that have been built around a director-class switch rather than multiple eight- or 16-port switches, this a very nice consolidation point," said Zimmerman.

McData spokesman Steve O'Brian said his company is already conducting tests with other switch vendors and is working on additional reseller agreements.

But "this represents the first out of the gate and probably the most significant for the market," he said.
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