Cisco SAN Switches Qualified for IBM Mainframes

Switches connect mainframe systems via IP-based SANs

Last week, Cisco announced that IBM has qualified and will resell special Fiber Connector (FICON) features for its Cisco MDS 9000 multilayer switches.

The upshot, officials say, is that customers can now use Cisco’s storage area network (SAN) switches to connect their mainframe systems via IP-based SANs.

Scott Drummond, program director of storage networking with IBM, acknowledges that Cisco isn’t the first vendor to offer FICON features for its SAN switches. “McData and CNT, which used to be NRange, have had FICON for several years, and Brocade just added it this year,” he confirms.

In spite of the availability of FICON SAN solutions from these vendors, some shops that have significant infrastructure investments in Cisco gear have specifically requested the FICON features, which Cisco introduced via its SAN-OS 1.3 software release, says Drummond.

“You get top management saying, ‘I want to buddy up with Cisco in every way I can,’ and this drives the storage people [who] are separate from the network people to look at doing something with Cisco,” he explains.

IBM qualified the new FICON features after conducting interoperability testing of Cisco’s MDS 9000 with IBM S/390 and zSeries mainframe environments at its Poughkeepsie Lab.

Although the new FICON features allow joint Cisco and IBM customers to connect mainframe systems in SANs, Cisco can also flow FICON over Internet Protocol (IP) by means of a Fibre Channel Over IP (FCIP) Activation Option for Cisco’s Internet Protocol Storage (IPS) services module. This is a boon to mainframe customers engaged in business continuity planning and disaster recovery efforts, Drummond says: “With all of the letter laws that have come out— Sarbanes-Oxley, the SEC inter-agency letter, all of these things—it’s making boards sit up and say, ‘What are we doing about biz continuity?’”

In this respect, he continues, the ability to flow FICON over IP lets organizations put a lot of space between business sites. “In this particular case, what you would be doing is you would have redundant FICON directors that are in two locations and you would be flowing dual paths, so if one went down the other would automatically take over, that would protect you from a metropolitan disaster,” he comments.

Because IBM resells the module in question, this eliminates the need for customers to purchase a separate channel-extension appliance to flow FICON over IP networks using FCIP, Drummond points out—an advantage that is unique to Cisco’s solution. “The Brocade and McData and CNT all have separate standalone boxes that we don’t resell that provide a capability of extending channels across distances,” he adds.

Big Blue will also resell two optional MDS 9000 bundles, the Fabric Manager Server Package Bundle and Mainframe Package Bundle with FICON protocol support. The Cisco MDS 9000 Fabric Manager Server (FMS) Package Bundle extends Cisco’s Fabric Manager (which facilitates switch configuration and troubleshooting capabilities) by collecting historical performance data for network traffic hot-spot analysis, among other capabilities.

The Cisco MDS 9000 Mainframe Package Bundle, on the other hand, is a collection of capabilities designed to support MDS 9000 operation in mainframe storage network applications. The Mainframe Package Bundle includes features such as Mainframe FICON protocol and FICON Control Unit Port (CUP) and FICON Switch Cascading and Fabric Binding.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.