Just when you might have thought the SAN director market was matured out with just two suppliers left, QLogic has gone and upset the applecart.

It has launched its SANbox 9000 'core switch', a SAN-director class product scaling to 256 ports (two 128-port 4u modules, one stacked on top of the other) running at 4Gbit/s. Interestingly QLogic is abolishing the switch-director divide by having the thing start at a 16-port level with upgradeability all the way to 256 ports. The two modules are linked by an 800Gbit/s backplane called a HyperStack.

The gross price overview says this box costs $50K upwards (32 ports) whereas Cisco and Brocade directors are in the $100,000 plus area. So the SANbox 9000 is both a lot smaller and a lot cheaper.

Its performance is claimed to be outstanding: 'Non-blocking, full-duplex bandwidth at 800Gbit/s in a single chassis module or a massive 1.6TB/sec for a dual module HyperStack configuration (64 10Gbit/s or 256 4Gbit/s FC ports) to enable high Performance Computing, Video and Satellite Capture data streaming applications.' Also 'For maximum port density, the low-profile 4u chassis supports eight 4Gbit/s switch blades for a total of 128 ports. For maximum performance, the SANbox 9000 can also support eight 10Gbit/s switch blades for a total of 32 ports.'

Both iSCSI and FCIP blades can be plugged in from January, 2007 onwards. Also it has customer-replaceable units, non-disruptive code upload and activation and five nines availability through redundant CPUs, power supplies, etc.

Ten gig FC is supported for inter-switch links and QLogic says, hopefully, that 'the SANbox 9000 is interoperable with all FC-SW-2 compliant Fibre Channel Director, Edge class switches and popular servers, storage and networking products from major manufacturers.' The interoperability with other vendors SAN switches and directors might be interesting in practice as this is thought to be a minefield area.

Another interesting aspect of the new box is '... for volume management, data replication and other storage applications, a Storage Services Platform blade will be available to host applications from a variety of software vendors." The SSP blade will be available from mid-2007 onwards. In other words this new SANbox can host intelligent storage management applications in the fabric. So it's a rival in that sense to Cisco and Brocade directors too.

Well, is the Fibre Channel SAN market mature or not? If it is then QLogic reckons to take share away from other suppliers, possibly by being used for extension of existing SANS (the interoperability bit) rather than by being used in the greenfield SAN area. If SAN use is growing then greenfield SANs in the larger SMBs look to be in QLogic's sights.

There is no FICON or ESCON support, ruling out mainframe attachment. QLogic will be looking for OEMS and system VARs to build customer fabrics using the SANbox.

It's refreshing to have an admitted (SAN)box shifter in the storage supplier ranks. QLogic has demonstrated an ability to succeed where other SAN component cost-reducers, like Gadzoox, have failed. Let's hope it does well. A side effect of it doing so will be tumbling per-port prices from the other two suppliers in this three-man race. Good news all round really.