After buying InRange CNT seemed to encompass the company but CNT director activities were low-volume. Some of us even wondered if InRange's products were destined to wither away. WE were wrong as the fourth director supplier, after McData and Brocade and Cisco too now, has resurfaced with a splash.

This is a brief look at CNT's new director.

CNT's UltraNet Multi-service Director (UMD) combines Fibre Channel director functions, IP SAN extension, logical SANs, up to 512 non-blocking ports running at 4Gbit/s and scalability to 10Gbit/s - FC and Ethernet - plus mirroring, replication and quality of service levels. It meets and beats capabilities in Brocade's SilkWorm 24000 and Cisco's MDS 9000.

The design has a mid-plane switching core which means the chassis can be kept although networking protocols and bandwidth speeds change. Data transmissions are converted to a common protocol before entering the core, which means that new protocols can be supported by adding protocol-specific blades. The switching core remains constant and has scalability built into it, with bandwidth ranging from 640 Gbit/s to 5 Tbit/s.

This reduces the need for port-swallowing inter-switch links, a feature of other directors with lower port counts and less bandwidth. More of the SAN's bandwidth is used for data transfer and less for internal linking. Customers get more value for money from their SAN.

There can be 2-32 slots and 12-512 non-blocking ports. Supported protocols include FC, FICON, iSCSI and FCIP over metro and wide-area distances. The UMD comes in five models: UMD 2; UMB 7; UMD 16; and UMD 32. Upgrades are easy with any blade supported in any chassis. The UMD 16 is the first to be released and will be available this quarter. It supports up to 256 FICON and/or FC ports. Pricing is not yet available.

The mix of FICON and FC ports means that both mainframe and open systems servers can share the SAN infrastructure, lowering costs.

There can be four classes of SAN service and traffic prioritised by port or port group. SANs can be segmented into logical domains with redundant fabric services in each domain. Customers can have the cost-saving advantages of SAN consolidation yet have secure data protected from wrongful access. Also applications nedfding guaranteed levels of access to their data can have it through the priority-based quality of service features.

Because of its features the UMD can virtualise storage across heterogeneous drive arrays and also replcate data between them. It can also provision - jargon for supply - storage to applications and also support data lifecycle management. Storage can be divided into three tiers: gold; silver; and bronze, with data moved between them according to policies.

Thus there could be high-speed FC drives, mid-speed SCSI drives and slower and cheaper ATA-class drives in the SAN with the UMD proving the data movement between them. Customers benefit with lower overall storage costs.

The UMD director is another example, possibly the leading example thus far, of intelligence migrating from servers into the storage fabric. A CNT white paper, available here discusses the role of multi-service directors.