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Cisco spins Web into storage plans

New gear for storage area networks taps into the Internet, a twist that the router maker says will help companies recover their networks in times of disaster.

Cisco Systems introduced routers Monday that use new standards meant to spread the use of storage area networks, which are increasingly important to digitally connected companies.

The two standards put some burden on the Web to keep parts of these giant networks connected, including data warehouses that store a company's vital information and that can be accessed from offices sometimes hundreds of miles away. The usual method of ferrying the information is over fiber-optic connections that are much more costly to build or lease.

"A lot of businesses want to build these networks, but using fiber is just too expensive," said Cisco Vice President Soni Jiandani.

Cisco is now selling two routers loaded with support for these new standards: the 7200, priced at $10,000, and the 7400, priced at $12,000. The company is also making the standards available for its SN 5482-2 Storage Router, which a handful of companies already use.

One of the standards inside the Cisco routers is the Internet Small Computer Systems Interface. It's a version of the older SCSI standard, which is widely used for connecting hard drives to computers. iSCSI enables that connection over a company Ethernet network or even the Internet.

Research firm IDC expects big things from the standard, predicting that it will be used in about 17 percent of the storage networking market by 2005.

The second standard inside the gear is Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (IP). This specification allows data traveling on fiber-optic cables to hop onto the Internet if need be. Fiber-optic cables are the typical means of connection for data centers, but the longest of those cables stretches only about 30 miles. Fibre Channel over IP adds about a thousand more miles.

Among the first targets for Cisco gear will be financial institutions that must now build backup data centers to store essential information, Jiandani said. New regulations from the Federal Reserve Bank, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are meant ensure that the nation's financial community can rebuild quickly in the event of a terrorist attack, military strike or natural disaster.

Columbus, Ga.-based TSYS, which processes the activity of about 253 million credit cards, is already using the equipment, according to Cisco.