Switch vendor Maxxan is changing tack to become an encryption supplier. It nearly went under as Fibre Channel switches became commodities apart from the intelligent switch platforms.

But these have not sold in great numbers and supply has reduced to two: Cisco and Brocade - after Brocade bought McDATA. Conservative customers prefer to add intelligence to directors from suppliers they already have instead of taking a punt on a new supplier like start-up Maxxan.

What was Maxxan to do? It decided to focus on encryption and and that to its switches. The idea is that an encrypting Maxxan switch can sit in front of storage arrays - disk or tape - and encrypt/decrypt the data on them. It joins NetApp's Decru and NeoScale in offering encryption services for disk and tape storage.

Decru offers encrypting appliances. Maxxan now calls itself CipherMax and says this approach does not scale in enterprise environments because of the costs of deploying multiple appliances in large storage environments. Better to employ a switch-based encryption device and talk to multiple storage devices from one logical point on the network. It has introduced a CM100 product line to do this in conjunction with CM250 and CM500 products which enable scaling up to hundreds of encryption ports. CipherMax has key management facilities as well.

If this approach becomes generally popular then Maxxan, sorry, CipherMax, could be squeezed out by the Brocade/Cisco combination once again by them adding encryption capability to their director-class products, even to some switch products.

Perhaps one outcome the company is hoping for is that it will be bought by either Brocade or Cisco in order to give them a short cut to having encrypting SAN ports without having to build it themselves.

Another possibility is for this switch-based encryption approach to spread to file storage and have virtualising file switch suppliers like Acopia add encryption to their switches. Down the road a Brocade file area network (FAN) box, if it comes to fruition, could do encryption too.

Decru and NeoScale better get used to the idea of having company.