We’ve come a long way since the original Cisco MDS line debuted a decade ago. Cisco maintained strong upward and backward compatibility allowing upgrades to a director, replacing line cards and supervisors, taking us from 2 to 4 then 8 Gb FibreChannel (FC) – while preserving the chassis, backplane and power supplies. There have been four generations of line cards to meet the growing demands of datacenters hungry for more bandwidth and throughput. The original operating system (SAN-OS) proved so solid and robust it became the basis of data center networking: Nexus OS (NX-OS) powering Cisco’s current Ethernet and FC networks.

On April 24th, the product line received a major overhaul with the introduction of its 16 Gb switches, new directors and a new hardware architecture. The revamped director is the MDS 9710 and closely resembles its Nexus 7000 cousin, replacing the 9500s. The switch is the MDS 9250i replacing the 9222i. Both are available for ordering today from Cisco and should start shipping in the next few months through Original Storage Manufactures (OSMs).

There is one line card offered initially on the 9710: a full line-rate 48-port 16 Gb FC/FICON module. (FICON is mainframe “Fibre Connection” for high speed storage attachment.) A 48-port 10 Gb FCoE module is planned for release later this year with full multi-hop capability. Like it’s 7k cousin, it offers N+1 power supplies and N+1 fabric modules, letting you scale power and bandwidth as appropriate to your needs. Initially you’ll want 6 power modules and 4 fabric modules to give full redundancy for today’s blades (up to a maximum of 8 and 6 respectively). As you’d expect, dual-redundant supervisors control the overall system with non-disruptive hardware and software upgrades. Three fans blow front to back for redundant cooling. Click to see a nice 3D model of the 9710. (Java required; click on the features menu at the bottom to view components inside.)

The 9250i offers 40 ports of 16 Gb FC/FICON, 8 ports of 10 Gb FCoE and 2 ports of 1/10 Gb IP (Ethernet) ports for FibreChannel over IP (FCIP) and iSCSI all at line rate. The switch can run many of intelligent SAN applications such as I/O Accelerator (IOA), Data Mobility Manager (DMM) Extended Remote Copy Acceleration (XRC). Click to see a nice 3D model of the 9250i. (Java required.)

The switches are FICON capable, but they are not supported yet in NX-OS. If you’re a mainframe shop, you’ll have to wait for a software release later this year.

Cisco is making a departure from the past by not releasing a FCIP card for the 9710 at this time. To do SAN extension over IP, you’ll need to add a 9250i into the mix instead of architecting it natively on the director. Hopefully this will be a temporary restriction and we’ll see a FCIP capable card on the director. For the past year, metro 10 GbE has become affordable for an increasing number of businesses. Storage environments that won’t replicate natively over IP will be looking to extend the storage area network (SAN), at least in the metro, over 10 GbE. The future of Storage Media Encryption (SME) is also uncertain with the new switches and is absent in the product launch.

If you’re not ready for 16 Gb FC yet, you can still future proof the new director and switches. The 16 Gb SFPs will switch between 4, 8 and 16, or you can opt for 8 Gb SFPs with 2, 4 and 8 Gb connectivity. Of course you can mix and match within a blade.

It’s nice to see the MDS mature into the Nexus hardware space with faster links, blades and scalable fabric modules. With this introduction, Cisco has given the product line a lot of growth with new line cards, fabric modules and supervisors for years to come.

2 thoughts on “Taking the wraps off of Cisco MDS 16 Gb FC Directors and Switches

  • Vito Ferrante says:

    Great write up. A few things I would like to add. Not having FCIP native at launch smells of “not ready for prime time” and “we need to release this box ASAP to compete with 16 GB from Brocade”. Customers are barely saturating 8 GB FC, so 16 GB FC seems like a “nice to have” right now. While I fully understand 16 GB FC will allow further consolidation on the ports for virtualization, I just don’t see it as a big selling point. If you customers are replacing directors on the as expected 5-year cycle, than having 16 GB FC is a great future proofing feature.

  • Urban Haas says:


    The FCIP missing in the director is the top question asked by anyone I’ve talked to on this product. The bigger point here is this is a platform for moving forward with next generation hardware. The additional blades will come.

    The point I may not have made as well is the 9250i is coming out later this year. So as it sits now, to do FCIP would require a 9222i until that box comes out.

    The 16 Gb will likely fit best for ISLs. I agree there’s not a lot that can drive that much – except for media agent to tape drive links and IBM SVC copy services.

    Keep a look at this space. There’s some really interesting things planned.


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