With an IBM contract under its belt, McData is pushing further into the SAN routing market. With its new products, customers will be able to tier, interconnect and segment their storage networks, much as they segment their local and wide area networks today, it claims.

It has also filled in details of its upcoming product plans, sketched out to analysts last month. They include the upcoming Intrepid 10000 enterprise-class director, 4Gbit/s upgrades for the existing Intrepid 6000, a new 4Gbit range of Sphereon Fibre Channel switches and more versions of the Nishan-derived Eclipse Fibre-to-IP storage router family.

The i10000 has an eight-blade architecture with each blade carrying four paddles, says Jean Becker, McData's senior VP of engineering. She says each paddle can carry eight 2Gbit Fibre Channel or FICON ports, or one 10Gbit port for inter-switch linking. It can support 128 full-speed 4Gbit ports, or 256 over-subscribed ports, she adds.

Next year the company will add both 4Gbit Fibre Channel and Eclipse-like routing blades to the i10000. Becker says the Intrepid 6000 is not being retired yet, and it too will gain 4Gbit and 10Gbit blades. "Routers make it much easier to do heterogenous interoperation, that's one reason they're becoming popular," she said. "We will have routing, distance and iSCSI in one box."

The Eclipse family will be augmented next year by a 1640 model, offering two Fibre, two Gigabit Ethernet and two multi-function ports. This will include hardware encryption and wirespeed iSCSI, as well as routing capabilities.

Also set for mid-2005 delivery are the Sphereon 4400 and 4700 range of 4Gbit Fibre Channel and FICON switches. These will include the 4710, with 24 4Gbit ports and two 10Gbit ports, each with extra buffer credits for long distance connectivity. They will also feature McData's FlexPort scheme for upgrading switches with blocks of extra ports, plus the ability to upgrade firrmware while the switch remains online.

"The storage networking market is growing up and the landscape is changing," explained Jeff Vogel, McData's senior worldwide marketing VP. "The level of complexity in SANs is orders of magnitude greater than it has been."

According to Vogel, the key is a network infrastructure that is tiered into a backbone, a distribution layer and an access layer. He says that the core of this expanded storage network is the director, with director partitioning and routing technology allowing separate SAN islands to be converged and share resources, without the need for them to be merged into a single SAN.

However, IDC's European storage programme director Claus Egge says that tiered networks for storage are not the only answer to growing complexity. "Is there a need? Probably," he said. "But a number of SANs out there are not connected, even though they're next to each other, because they have different types of data, or servers that don't mix."

Jeff Vogel disagrees though: "The focus will shift from switching to routing in software," he said. "A lot more routing technology will play out in the next 12 months. Ultimately this infrastructure becomes an application grid - we're not there yet, but customers are already migrating to centralised management and network provisioning."

Read our new interview with McData CEO John Kelley here.