Cisco revs up storage connections for data centers and WANs

Additions to its lineup should make both throughput and management tasks faster

Data is piling up, and storage keeps getting faster thanks to flash, so the networks that link it all together need to keep up, too.

Both traditional Fibre Channel and more general-use protocols used in storage keep steadily ratcheting up performance. On Wednesday, Cisco Systems is boosting the speed of long-distance storage links for disaster recovery and business continuity. It’s also introducing higher speeds for IP (Internet Protocol) storage networks in data centers and enhancing its software to simplify storage management.

Fibre Channel hangs on as the glue that binds together SANs (storage area networks) because it’s dependable and secure, said 451 Research analyst Steven Hill. A majority of large enterprise installations use it even though typically cheaper IP-based systems like iSCSI have been around for years, he said.

But Fibre Channel doesn’t reach far enough to connect two storage systems in different metropolitan areas, so enterprises need something more if they want to replicate their data between widely separated SANs. The main reason for that kind of setup is the need for business continuity and rapid recovery from a disaster.

To help its MDS 9700 storage switch better connect Fibre Channel systems over wide-area networks, Cisco is introducing a SAN Extension Module with more ports and higher speeds for FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP). The new module has eight ports of 10-Gigabit Ethernet, up from four ports of Gigabit Ethernet for this purpose on the previous line card. The new card will also be able to host two 40-Gigabit Ethernet ports next year through a software upgrade at no extra cost.

Also on Wednesday, Cisco is coming out with new speed options for IP storage networking on its Nexus 9000 Series data-center switches. The new options allow for 25Gbps, 50Gbps and 100Gbps connections. Up to now, the 9000 series has offered IP storage connections at 10Gbps and 40Gbps. The 25/50/100-Gigabit speeds are popular mostly for big cloud-scale companies that deploy equipment very densely and need as much speed as possible at each port, analyst Hill said.

Another advancement coming on Wednesday is designed to streamline storage management. Cisco is enhancing its DCNM (Data Center Network Manager) software, which is used for managing both SANs and LANs, by combining it with some storage array management functions. DCNM can automatically kick off actions on the array when the administrator does certain configurations on the SAN.

This could make some common storage setup processes easier. For example, creating a storage volume, assigning it to a host, and assigning that host to a target used to require administrators to switch back and forth between separate pieces of software for managing the SAN and the array. Now it all happens on one screen, and that process should be simplified down from 40 clicks to 3 clicks, Cisco said.

Cisco is extending this to arrays from Dell EMC, IBM and other vendors through APIs (application programming interfaces) and standard interfaces.

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