Spotlight on the SAN Switch

Arthur Cole

Virtualization has vastly increased the amount of data a single server processes at any given moment, so it's no surprise that enterprises running virtual servers are now looking to increase the flow of data to and from the SAN.


It's a trend that the major vendors have jumped on with new generations of storage switches, although exactly how they should be deployed and how much intelligence they should have is up for debate.


Hewlett-Packard favors a highly adaptive storage infrastructure capable of holding up to the dense server environments of the future. The company recently added a new set of embedded switches to its c-Class portfolio supporting the Brocade Access Gateway Mode and Cisco's N-Port Virtualizer systems. The StorageWorks system also has a new 4 Gb Fibre Channel and an iSCSI switch.


For its part, Cisco just came out with a new gateway switch that supports 4 Gbps Fibre Channel and up to 20 Gbps Infiniband. With the SFS 3504, all servers are connected via Infiniband, while the aggregated traffic is sent to the SAN through FC. No more attaching a separate FC HBA to each server in the cluster.


Cisco technology is also making its way into the appliance market. NetApp recently added the MDS 9134 modular switch and the 9222i fabric switch to its SAN portfolio. The company plans to present the switches as adjuncts to its FAS3000 and FAS2000 unified storage solutions for enterprises looking to delve into multiprotocol SAN routing and SAN extension over IP technology.


And as this article on points out, everyone agrees that storage networks should become more intelligent as data environments grow increasingly complex, there is a wide array (sorry) of opinions as to how it should be done. Some, like Cisco, want to see intelligent networks themselves, while Brocade says the brains should be located in the SAN switch. EMC backs intelligent appliances that would direct the SAN, and Hitachi is pushing for a disk-controller model. Oracle would like to see increased reliance on smart applications. I guess it's no surprise that each firm backs intelligence for its own system specialty.


Storage has always been the neglected step-child of the enterprise. While server management is a day-to-day activity, storage is usually left alone unless there is a problem. Those days may be at an end as new technologies increasingly rely on a flexible and dynamic storage environment.

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