In hot pursuit of the metro optical storage market

July 1, 2001


Storage-area networks (SANs) today back up the Internet ideally in real-time. With Internet content, transactions, and communications on an accelerated growth curve, optical transport between WAN storage systems is becoming a necessity. For financial-services companies meeting Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, real-time backup (or "data-mirroring") is required. Equipment vendors in the storage and networking arenas want a piece of this emerging market. Several optical communications vendors recently announced their plans to enter the fray.

The potential payoffs in the SAN space are high. In North America, the optical data storage and transport market is expected to reach $3.6 billion by 2004, according to RHK, a telecom market researcher. A few service providers such as Storage Networks Inc. and GiantLoop Network are in hot pursuit of optical storage opportunities. GiantLoop (Waltham, MA) is in trials with six potential customers, offering to build and manage their optical storage networks over leased fiber. The company plans to initially offer these services in Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Vendors of metro DWDM platforms are aggressively marketing their systems as solutions for optical connectivity of storage networks to enterprise customers and service providers. In some cases, they are offering next-generation products designed to meet specific application needs.

Networking powerhouse Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) introduced such a product at Networld + Interop in May. After entering the metro WDM market last year with the Cisco Metro 1500, an entry-level eight-channel system designed by OEM partner ADVA Optical Networking, Cisco is throwing its own hat into the metro optical ring with a 32-channel DWDM platform developed in-house. Both the old and new systems are marketed as optical transport solutions for SANs.

The new ONS 15540 Extended Services Platform is designed as a modular, scalable metro DWDM system for data, storage, and legacy networking applications of Fortune 1000 enterprise users and service providers. It supports up to 32 wavelengths per fiber (as well as an additional optical supervisory channel) at 100-GHz channel spacing in point-to-point, hub, or meshed-ring architectures. Optical add/drop multiplexing modules can add or drop four, eight, or 16 wavelengths at a time. A programmable transponder line card offers transparent connectivity for protocols such as SONET/SDH, ATM, and Gigabit Ethernet at speeds ranging from 16 Mbits/sec to 2.5 Gbits/sec.

For storage applications, the system supports native storage protocols such as Enterprise Systems Connection (Escon), Fiber Connection (Ficon), and Fibre Channel. Cisco is also working on certification of the product with several partners. As such, the ONS 15540 Extended Services Platform will be interoperable with fiber-based systems from dominant storage player EMC Corp. and enterprise servers from IBM. The company is also working to qualify the ONS 15540 for use in managed networked solutions from service providers AT&T Solutions and Metromedia Fiber Networks.

Rack space played an important role in the system's design. With dimensions of 24x17.3x12 inches, the 12-slot chassis fits into an enterprise rack. Scheduled to ship late last month, the base system list price is $67,000.

Upgrade plans for the ONS 15540 are ambitious: 10-Gigabit Ethernet and OC-192c support, mixed services and switching capability on a single wavelength, and end-to-end management on a per-wavelength basis. The ONS 15540 will also be integrated with Cisco Transport Manager, a network-management system for service providers.

According to Cisco, the ONS 15540 will offer up to 256 service ports. That is accomplished using the company's Wavefill technology, expected to become available early next year; Wavefill will enable users to multiplex multiple services within a single wavelength. "This will really come into play with 10-Gbit/sec transport, because users can finally maximize all of that bandwidth," explains John Noh, a Cisco company spokesman.

Metro DWDM system competitor Nortel Networks (Ottawa, Ontario) also raised the stakes in the metro optical storage market in May. The company announced an alliance to develop and market integrated optical storage networking solutions with long-time Cisco partner EMC. The integrated solutions will be based on Nortel's OPTera Metro 32-wavelength DWDM platform and EMC's storage systems and software. The two companies have already tested Nortel's customer relationship management (CRM) applications in an optical storage network environment.

While EMC has had a longstanding partnership with Cisco in the Internet protocol (IP) arena, the Nortel partnership is focused solely on optical storage solutions. EMC has also worked with Lucent Technologies to certify its products.

Enterprise and service-provider customers interested in WDM optical storage connectivity on a smaller scale may opt for SAN vendor Entrada Networks' Silverline-WDM Optical Extender for Storage Networks. After introducing its Silverline-222 SAN over IP Router last November, the San Diego company entered the optical arena in early May, with the WDM optical extender. Designed to bridge the gap between optical extenders and metro DWDM, the Entrada system can combine four bidirectional optical channels and extend storage distances up to 80 km without amplification.

The initial product, expected to be in beta testing this fall, will support coarse WDM and native storage protocols such as Escon, Ficon, and Gigabit Ethernet as well as OC-3, OC-12, and OC-48 connections. The product is positioned as an economical solution for WAN and MAN storage.

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