Rival switch vendors smoke interoperability peace pipe

While not a Middle East peace accord, the two leading manufacturers of fibre-channel switch products announced yesterday that they have agreed on a standard code that will allow their rival products to communicate in storage area networks (SAN).

Analysts say the move will make work for IT managers easier by allowing them to tie together their legacy fibre-channel networks to create larger and more easily controlled storage environments.

McData Corp. announced yesterday that it jointly developed the interoperability code with EMC Corp. and that it has installed the code in its director-class switches, allowing them to communicate with network devices made by San Jose-based Brocade Communications Systems Inc. Brocade commands 60% to 90% of the fibre-channel switch marketplace.

As of yesterday, all products shipping from McData will contain the new code.

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 that has 8 or 16 ports, has up to 64 ports and is completely redundant for increased reliability.

The code has been accepted as a standard by the Fibre Channel Standards Working Group (FC-SW-2). Brocade is part of the FC-SW-2 and helped develop the standard.

James Opfer, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest Inc., 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 Bob Zimmerman, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif.

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

Both McData, which split off from EMC and went public in August, and Brocade have original equipment manufacturer (OEM) reseller agreements with Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC.

Jim Rothnie, a senior vice president and chief technology officer at EMC, said that by working with McData to develop the code "we are giving customers a clear path to migrate their existing switch base to a world class, enterprise-to-edge solution."

"From the perspective of the client with multiple SANs or ones that have been built around a director-class switch rather than multiple 8- or 16-port switches, this a very nice consolidation point," Zimmerman said.

McData spokesman Steve O'Brian, said his company is already conducting tests with other switch vendors and is working on additional OEM agreements, but "this represents the first out of the gate and probably the most significant for the market."

This story, "Rival switch vendors smoke interoperability peace pipe" was originally published by Computerworld.

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