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Cisco upgrades storage switch software

Continuing its push into the storage market, the networking giant unveils upgraded software for storage switches that promises to improve information sharing and prioritize data traffic.

Continuing its push into the storage market, networking giant Cisco unveiled upgraded software for storage switches that promises to improve information sharing and prioritize data traffic.

Cisco on Tuesday announced the latest version of the operating system for its MDS 9000 switches used in storage area networks (SANs). SANs are specialized networks designed for more efficient use of data storage equipment and easier management.

Cisco said the upgrade is aimed at helping customers build more secure SANs that can be managed better and expanded.

Richard Villars, analyst at market research firm IDC, said the latest switch software is part of a storage industry trend to build resilient, increasingly larger networks. "For the next year, the biggest challenge the industry faces will be making storage area networks more reliable on a large scale," he said.

McData, Brocade Communications Systems and CNT are Cisco competitors in the storage market, Villars said.

Organizations often set up physically isolated SANs to handle different applications, such as enterprise resource planning, said Rajeev Bhardwaj, a product manager for the Cisco MDS 9000. Cisco has touted the creating of one infrastructure for linking these storage "islands" together.

But a single massive storage network can suffer from excess traffic, Bhardwaj said, so Cisco has promoted the use of "virtual SANs" (VSANs)--where distinct storage networks with their own policies are established within the overall network.

One feature of the new Cisco operating system is the ability to route data between virtual SANs. So-called Inter-VSAN Routing allows servers in different VSANs to share common storage resources without merging VSANs into a single pool of storage, according to Cisco.

Another new feature in the Cisco upgrade is dubbed "Quality of Service." It is designed to allow Cisco MDS 9000 SANs to differentiate and prioritize storage traffic based on the specific requirements of the data, Cisco said. For example, a SAN could give priority to time-sensitive applications such as online transaction processing.

Cisco said the new operating system also supports FICON, an interface used with mainframe computers, and promises to improve disaster recovery operations through "Fibre Channel over IP Write Acceleration and Compression." Fibre Channel over IP (Internet Protocol) is a method for transmitting data that can be used to back up information at a remote site.

SANs are one several new markets for Cisco, which rose to prominence by selling switches and routers that are used to direct traffic over a network. It entered the SAN market last year with plans to surpass competitors Brocade and McData in the next three to five years.