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IBM taps Emulex for cheap Fibre Channel

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Are smaller businesses ready to adopt SANs? History is dubious, but the latest converts to the cause are Emulex and IBM, via a pair of cheap 'n cheerful Fibre Channel switches based on silicon that Emulex has been selling to the embedded market for use in disk arrays and the like.

They follow several other attempts to sell low-end SANs, such as IBM's ill-fated first round of iSCSI kit, and QLogic's SAN-in-a-box kits which proved a useful door-opener with some SAN-wary accounts, but failed to set the small business market alight.

What makes the Emulex switches cheap is that they are not designed to support the SAN fabrics that large users now expect as a matter of course. The SAN Storage Switch 355 is a 12-port non-blocking 2Gbit Fibre Channel switch, while the 375 is a 20-port version that also has redundant fans and hot-swappable power supplies.

Both are based on the InSpeed switch-on-a-chip technology that Emulex bought with Vixel. They have an integrated web server for management, plus a number of features to simplify installation and use, such as predefined switch configurations, one-step storage pool partitioning, and an intelligent change manager.

"It's a loop switch, a souped-up hub," says QLogic's Steve Perkins. He pointed out that it is not upgradeable but could be good for someone with a few servers and no plans to grow.

"It competes with the QLogic SANbox, it's very much for the low-end - eight to 12 servers, three or four storage devices," adds Alan Wallman, VP of Emulex's European operations. "It could be connected to a fabric though, via a Brocade switch say."

He says that Emulex will only sell the switches through OEMs such as IBM and will not compete directly with Brocade, Cisco and McDATA, as he wants to carry on working with all of them on the HBA front.

However, Brocade targets a similar market with cut-down versions of its SilkWorm fabric switches, and at an estimated $200 per port, the Emulex switches are considerably cheaper.

In any case, small businesses have so far been fearful of Fibre Channel. However, Stuart Bridger, CTO at SAN specialist Acal Storage Networking thinks that could change, despite the challenge from IP storage.

"iSCSI's not taken off, it's still too early," he says. "Fibre Channel is not difficult, it's just different - if you want 'difficult', storage over IP can be even harder. It can get very messy and you can get into some very high level IP stuff.

"The key for Emulex will be to have the right software - it has to be easy to use and understand, because at that level you're competing against NAS too." ®

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