Cisco has is expected to announce, or rather re-announce, its MDS 9513 director. Back in 2002 it was a 13-slot, 256 port, 2Gbit/s Fibre Channel (FC) director topping out the then range. The next director in the range, the 9-slot, 224 port MDS9509 however, was close in specification. In the event the MDS 9513 never shipped. It's still mentioned on the Cisco web site though.

Now Cisco appears to have been quietly briefing or leaking information about the box' re-incarnation. It still has 13 slots but now has 528 ports and runs at 4Gbit/s - double the ports and double the speed.

Brocade has completed its 4Gbit/s FC transition. McDATA has 4Gbit/s switches but its Intrepid 10000 director is still a 2Gbit/s device. Cisco has been lagging too but, then, like other people using/dependent on Fibre Channel it's been waiting for an appreciable 4Gbit/s market to appear.

One of the things that will kick-start that market is to have high-end drive arrays pumping out data at 4Gbit/s. Currently they don't. IBM, HDS and EMC top-end arrays all run at 2Gbit/s. Only Engenio has a 4Gbit/s array, with Sun (StorageTek), SGI and IBM (DS4800) using it, but Engenio isn't a front rank drive array vendor and these are mid-range arrays.

So why would Cisco jump into 4Gbit/s directors now?

We might remember that EMC hasn't certified McDATA's i10K director. EMC hasn't said it won't certify it. McDATA hasn't said what the issue is. But an issue there certainly is and it isn't getting resolved with any visible urgency.

Will McDATA build a 500+ port Intrepid? Michael Frendo, McDATA's SVP engineering pointed out that: "Customers aren't demanding that level of technology today. We'll build a 512 port product eventually. We'll go there when we need to run 512 ports flat out at 4Gbit/s."

Cisco certainly would like to get a marketing jump over McDATA. Getting a 4Gbit/s MDS 9513 certified by EMC would definitely be a coup.

In July 2005 a Merrill Lynch Comment speculated about two new DMX systems from EMC. A DMX3500, with about 430TB capacity, and a DMX 4500 with about 580TB. Both would have 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel front end ports. This 7th generation Symmetrix was widely mentioned in the IT media at the time.

In the event the DMX 3500 and 4500 failed to surface.

Have EMC, HDS or IBM got 4Gbit/s high-end array plans? EMC had but pulled back in mid-2005. With Cisco entering the 4Gbit/s director market now perhaps we're at a 4Gbit/s high-end array tipping point.