Emulex's new router products can free customers from having to use hardware from their SAN switch vendor to connect SANs together, or add in Ethernet server connections, the company has claimed.

Currently customers have to add a switch vendor's own iSCSI device to the switch to enable Ethernet-connected servers to link to a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN. They also have to plug in another switch vendor-specific product to connect SANs together, for example to gain disaster recovery protection. Now Emulex frees them from this switch vendor lock-in.

Emulex's iSCSI model 725 storage router has two Gigabit Ethernet ports and one 2Gbit/s Fibre Channel port connecting to a SAN switch port. According to Mike Smith, Emulex's executive VP for marketing, there is enough processing power in the 725 to support the connection of hundreds, even thousands, of servers. It avoids the expensive need to either extend FC links direct to the servers or to use more expensive products from Cisco, Brocade or McData.

Smith says the 1U high, half-width product is expected to have a street price in the $5K-10K (£3K-6K) area, "far lower than other products," such as Brocade's iSCSI Gateway. This is similarly sized but has two FC ports running at up to 4Gbit/s. No end user prices have been released yet.

Emulex uses the same box, but with different components inside to provide FC over IP connectivity to link two SANs together. Its model 735 FCIP router is priced similarly to the 725 and enables customers to avoid being locked in to the SAN switch supplier for FCIP routing. Cisco and Brocade offer FCIP products, such as Brocade's SilkWorm FR4-18i 4Gbit/s blade which plus into a SilkWorm switch. Again no prices have been released by Brocade and, again, Emulex expects end user prices for its product to be 'far lower' than Cisco or Brocade product prices.

Cisco's SN 5428-2 router was priced at $11,995 (£7,000) in 2003. McData's Eclipse 2640 storage router was priced from $100,000 (£60,000) in late 2004.

Emulex sees a need for iSCSI to be used as a FC SAN extension product as well as IP being used to link SANs together. Smith said: "These new storage router products meet a critical market need as SANs extend beyond the data centre and more users look to leverage their investment in fibre channel infrastructure."

Richard Villars, IDC's VP Storage Systems research said: "Server proliferation remains one of the most critical challenges facing IT managers at mid-sized and large organisations ... (Products) like Emulex's new Storage Routers make it possible for companies to cost-effectively connect both local and remote low end servers to more efficient and reliable storage assets on the corporate SAN."

Other vendors, such as EqualLogic, Left Hand Networks and Intransa see iSCSI SANs being used independently of Fibre Channel SANs.