McData is pushing further towards a low-end SAN mass market with the launch today of its 4300 series low-end Fibre Channel switch. At the same time the company announced that it has had to double its production capacity to meet demand for its earlier 4500 series switches.

The new models share some technology with the 4500 range, including the core 'switch on a chip', the built-in SANpilot management software, and the Flexport concept which allows a switch to be upgraded with more ports without being taken offline. The 4300 can scale from four to 12 2Gbit ports, half as many as the 4500.

"Flexport has been very successful in the 4500 - you can add the optics and software key to unlock extra ports on the fly," says Doug Rainbolt, McData's VP of switches. "By comparison, going from one to three 8-port switches goes backwards on scalability because you lose ports to inter-switch links."

Rainbolt says that although 50 percent of 4500 switches go into midrange SANs, it was designed as an edge switch in large SANs which typically have McData Fibre Channel directors at their core. The 4300 is also aimed at smaller SANs, but omits the 4500's expensive enterprise-class features such as dual redundant power supplies.

The 4-port version was suggested by McData partners, Rainbolt says, though he thinks the 8-port version will be the best seller. He describes the smaller models as door-openers, explaining that once they have been cited to demonstrate how cheap a SAN can be, the customer and reseller can get on with planning a more realistic system.

"There is a need to address the price-sensitive market," he says. "No-one knows for sure where Fibre Channel will be in 18 months time, but is there a possibility of increasing the total available Fibre Channel market by a new proposition? Having an 8-port offering opens doors to 16-ports - it's all about having a portfolio. The 4300 won't be trivial but we'll sell more 16-ports."

"We had 6 percent of the midrange switch market worldwide at the beginning of 2002," says Alain Andreoli, McData's executive VP for worldwide sales and services. "By the end of the first quarter this year it was 17 percent, we were capacity-limited and we had to open a second production line for the 4500. We are aiming for 30 percent in 12 months - we already have 60 percent to 70 percent of the high end."