Brocade has reduced the cost of SANs with two new low-end Dazzler SAN switches.

The Silkworm 3250 is an 8-port switch and the 3850 is 16-port. Both are cheaper than their existing counterparts, the 3200 and 3800. Four Brocade vendors: HP, IBM, StorageTek and Sun have all issued statements supporting the switches.

The new 2Gbit/s switches are not only cheaper but can have their software upgraded on the fly and without disrupting data traffic. The 3250 will replace the 3200 but the 3800 continues in production as it has a hot-swappable power supply, which the 3850 does not.

It is thought that SAN adoption by smaller enterprises and outside mainstream enterprise area has been slowed by the high prices involved. "Western European SAN-attach rates have historically varied by price of the external storage array," said Eric Sheppard, research manager for IDC's European disk storage systems research. "Low-end storage arrays have a SAN attach-rate that is less than a third of high-end arrays. IDC believes that this gap will shrink over time as suppliers like Brocade increase the availability of low-cost, easy-to-use SAN products."

The lower cost comes in part from a fourth-generation Brocade ASIC driving the switches. However, the cost reduction doesn't amount to that much, with HP talking about a 15 percent cost reduction compared to the 8 and 16-port switches it currently ships. A US entry-price of $5,000 (£2,690) has been suggested for the 3250 from HP.

At $625 a port, plus the server HBAs and the back-end Fibre Channel disk controllers, it is not going to set enterprises, of any size, reaching for their cheque books without some serious thought. It's as if Mercedes had introduced a hatchback.

Because standard Ethernet is used then iSCSI SAN storage promises to be much cheaper than Fibre Channel networks. Mark Delsman, Adaptec's CTO, makes the point: "You can have a range of costs and options available to you with iSCSI, from software driver through a standard Ethernet NIC up to a hardware-accelerated host adapter. Not so with Fibre Channel where everything is in the ASIC."

The switches can be used as edge switches in an enterprise SAN and as normal switches in a workgroup, departmental or smaller enterprise storage network. If enterprises use them as edge switches, the aditional features needed will drive the cost up to $15,000 for the 3280. Since enterprises typically double up on switches for redundancy, that's $30,000. One might wish for greater cost-savings.

It is expected that Brocade will refresh its entire Silkworm family using the new ASIC. The move could prompt both Cisco and McData to introduce 8-port switches and lower prices of their 16-port switches.