McData has a new director-class switch with 256 ports, multiple network protocols and hard-partitioning capabilities. It means consolidation of a storage network with intelligent routing.

The Intrepid i10K switch features DS10000 switch technology gained from the Sanera acquisition and can be partitioned into numerous smaller, discrete storage-area networks (SAN) as well as 64 10Gbit/s ports used to cobble together other switches.

The 10Gbit/s links can also be used to replicate data between data centers for disaster recovery purposes, said Patrick Harr, vice president of director platforms at McData.

McData is looking to promote tiered networks through use of the i10K as a backbone switch. For example, companies could use existing McData Intrepid 6000 series directors, which have 64 ports, and low-end 24-port Sphereon switches, all connected into and managed by a single i10K.

The i10K also supports multiple protocols, including iSCSI, Fibre Channel and Ficon connectivity. It offers Layer 2 network switching, or the ability to crack open data packets, read the information inside and route the data.

Storage analyst Arun Taneja said what's most impressive about the i10K is its ability to "carve out domains that are rock-solid in terms of their separation. The whole idea is that to truly separate them out for different departments or even companies, security has to be rock-solid," said Taneja.

By the end of the year, McData plans to add service modules using an application-specific integrated circuit chip from Aarohi. That will enable network intelligence functions such as volume management, provisioning, data migration and replication. The modules will also allow the i10K or other McData switches to adopt functionality from other storage vendors and switch manufacturers.

"The nice part about the service modules is they're going to be compatible with any of their switches, which allows them to put intelligence data services into an existing network," said Nancy Hurley, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Hurley said that the i10K is similar to Cisco Systems Inc.'s MDS 9500 series switches, "but it goes further. You'd be able to lower your overall cost because you're using this product to consolidate multiple SANs onto one switch and manage it all from one central interface," Hurley said. "They'll leapfrog Brocade and Cisco with this product."

The i10K will ship in the next few weeks, priced at 20 per cent more than the Intrepid 6140, which costs roughly $1,750 per port.