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Cisco launches MDS 9148 entry-level 8 Gbps Fibre Channel switch

Dave Raffo

Cisco Systems Inc., which focuses on large Fibre Channel directors in its SAN switch line, today launched a smaller 8

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Gbps Fibre Channel switch that scales from 16 to 48 ports and is aimed at entry-level and departmental SANs.

The Cisco MDS 9148 can start with 16 ports and customers can upgrade with eight-port license increments. All the ports can run at 8 Gbps with no oversubscription, according to Mark Weiner, director of market management for Cisco data center solutions. The MDS 9148 is Cisco's first non-director to support 8 Gbps FC, and includes features from its MDS 9500 director family such as inter-VSAN routing and redundant power supply and fans.

Cisco has concentrated mostly on directors and left the midrange switch market to Brocade Communications Systems Inc. since entering the FC switch market, but sees the 8 Gbps MDS 9148 switch as a good fit for organizations with a lot of virtualized servers. Besides SANs for small companies or departments, Cisco positions the MDS 9148 as a top-of-the-rack switch in a core-edge architecture or as a bridge between a primary and secondary data center.

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It can also be seen as an admission by Cisco that storage administrators aren't looking to jump to Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) yet, and FC will remain the dominant SAN fabric for at least a few more years.

"We were told by customers, 'You have to support server virtualization.' We want something for midmarket deployments, and make it as cost effective as you can,'" Weiner said.

Weiner said Cisco's storage vendor partners, such as EMC Corp., are qualifying the switch, and it will be sold through the vendor's usual OEM and channel partners. Although partners set the final price, Cisco estimates a 32-port configuration will cost $31,840, including licenses for features such as inter-switch link (ISL) trunking and extended performance monitoring.

The MDS 9148 uses the same NX-OS operating system that runs on Cisco's MDS directors, as well as its Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and Nexus FCoE switches.

Brocade has had the midrange FC switch space largely to itself in recent years, but suddenly finds itself with more competition in that segment. QLogic Corp. has been making a push with its 5800V 8-gig stackable switches, winning reseller deals with Hewlett-Packard Co. and EMC 8 Gbps stackable switches over the past two months and now Cisco has a new switch.

Although Cisco has been talking up FCoE over the past few years as a way to consolidate storage and Ethernet networks, Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Bob Laliberte said the flurry of activity shows Fibre Channel remains alive and well as the SAN protocol of choice.

"We're anticipating FCoE to pick up this year, but the reality is people are still doing Fibre Channel," he said. "They say 'Fibre Channel, it's never let me down.' If they're going out and buying something for production applications today, they're going with what they know."

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