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Cisco CEO John Chambers says he is disappointed with the company's progress in the storage area networking market. Despite Cisco's attempts to improve interoperability between SAN switches from different suppliers, there are still few customers that want to use more than one brand of switch or director in their SANs, limiting the number of new customers Cisco can gain.

One large challenge Cisco faces is the limited interoperability between different suppliers' SAN switches, which has always forced the huge majority of customers to stick to one vendor within their storage networks. Cisco however denied that this limits its SAN sales to greenfield sites, where there is not yet any investment in SAN technology.

But asked what proportion of the company's SAN sales have been made to non-greenfield sites, Cisco said its sales figures were too "diffuse" to determine such an apparently straightforward figure. Instead the company said that most of its business is with large customers, around 75% of whom already have SANs. "Typically these are small SANs, and the customer is ready to make a strategic SAN infrastructure decision," the company concluded.

Cisco has already attempted to address the issue. When it launched its MDS 9100 switches earlier this year, it promised they work with "a limited number of Brocade switches" operating at the edge of a SAN and running a "limited" range of firmware releases. This allows the advanced networking features offered with Brocade's gear to run even after the Brocade hardware has been incorporated into a Cisco SAN. However it does not cover the useful ability to create trunk or bundled links between Brocade switches, and was achieved without Brocade's cooperation - which is likely to compromise support.

Cross-vendor SAN hardware can be linked together, but only by reducing functionality to the relatively low common denominator defined by the current Fibre Channel FC-SW2 specification. "Above the line" state-of-the art functions that all the vendors offer have not yet been standardized, and cover a range of areas including trunking, data monitoring, and network partitioning. The latter includes Cisco's Virtual SAN technology, which it is keen to promote. Estimates of how useful these functions are vary, and some analysts and vendors say they are less important when running smaller or less sophisticated networks. Regardless of that, very few customers - large or small - mix different switch or director brands within their SANs.

Source: Computerwire/Datamonitor

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