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Cisco gets MDS 9700 ready for 32-gig FC storage

Cisco 6 FC storage module brings 32 Gbps support across MDS 9700 director family. Cisco and partners certify UCS C-Series servers for 32 Gbps-ready host bus adapters.

Development of sixth-generation Fibre Channel (FC) storage switching is basically a two-horse race between market behemoth Brocade Communications Systems (soon to be part of Broadcom) and rival Cisco. Brocade launched 32-gigabit per second (Gbps) FC equipment last year, and today the second horse galloped into view.

Cisco released a 32-gig module for its family of high-end MDS 9700 multilayer directors, allowing customers to take advantage of the higher bandwidth when array vendors start supporting it.

The 48-port module extends 32-gig FC storage capabilities across Cisco MDS 9700 switches, including the 192-port MDS 9706 and 384-port MDS 9710 appliances.

The new modules will actually supports 128 Gbps with four lanes of 32 Gbps traffic. Cisco last year launched the 32 Gbps-capable MDS 9718 director, its highest-density model with 768 ports.

"This is investment protection for our customers. When we launched the MDS chassis in 2013, we told customers they would be able to easily transition from 16-gig to 32-gig. Cisco is now delivering on that promise with this new module," said Adarsh Viswanathan, a Cisco senior manager for data center product.

In addition, Cisco said it partnered with Broadcom and Cavium to certify Unified Computing System C-Series servers to accept 32 Gbps host bus adapters when manufacturers make them available.

Cisco, which concentrates more on Ethernet than FC, historically lags Brocade when moving to the latest FC technology. Brocade's business is more dependent on FC, and it calls the latest FC technology Gen 6. Broadcom disclosed its intention to acquire Brocade for $5.9 billion last November and expects to close the deal in 2017.

We think this will accelerate flash deployments.
Adarsh Viswanathansenior manager of product management and marketing, Cisco

End-to-end 32-gig FC storage support also requires host bus adapters (HBA) and storage arrays to support the higher bandwidth.

"Brocade and Cisco are both focused on putting blades that fit in their large director switches. The next questions: Who is going to come up with the rest of the Fibre Channel ecosystem and when will array vendors start shipping FC storage targets that address 32-gig support?" said Steven Hill, a senior storage analyst at 451 Research in Green Bay, Wis.

The two major FC HBA vendors were also acquired in recent years. Avago (now Broadcom) bought Emulex in 2015 and Cavium acquired QLogic in 2016. Both vendors have HBAs that support 32-gig FC, but no major array vendors support it yet. Cisco's Viswanathan said the array vendors already have demand for faster switching, so he expects 32-gig support soon.

"We think this will accelerate flash deployments. There are storage vendors that tell us that they are able to fill a 32-gig pipe today because they have removed the bottleneck at the controller level," Viswanathan said.

Cisco: FC storage upgrade of MDS 9700 protects your investment

Cisco's 32 Gbps card scales FC SAN performance on a slot-by-slot basis. Users can run 16 Gbps cards in some slots and dedicate other slots to 32 Gbps cards. They don't have to replace chassis or cabling.

The Cisco MDS 9700 family tops out at 16 Gbps, but it was designed it with sufficient bandwidth to ease the transition to 32-gig. The switches can also be used as high-speed inter-switch links (ISLs) or to run SCSI commands and nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) flash traffic across the same network.

A single Cisco MDS 9700 chassis can accept 16 cards for a line rate of 768 ports, which it rates for full duplex bandwidth of 1,536 Gbps.

Getting analytics on SAN performance historically means running a third-party hardware probe to track all FC ports. Cisco's new card includes a dedicated line processor used to track and analyze packets on the SAN. The switch-native analytics can sustain the line rate across all 48 ports.

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