It was two decades ago when Cisco started shipping the Cisco MDS 9000 storage networking switches in volume to customers, following the initial launch a few months before. At that time, there were questions about why Cisco had entered the “storage business”. We didn’t see it quite that way. Sure, the lexicon was a little different. For example, we were now connecting “hosts, HBAs, and LUNs”, not “servers, NICs, and controllers”. But it was still networking, and our customers looked to Cisco for help.

With that objective in mind, Cisco has introduced a number of groundbreaking storage networking innovations that leverage our entire data center networking arsenal including Nexus switching and management technologies. These innovations have benefited our customers over these last two decades. I also believe they have advanced the storage networking industry at large, which we are a proud member of. Looking at five examples:

  • Segmentation: Introduced through virtual SANs (VSANs) used to enable higher levels of security, virtualization, resource utilization and greater stability in SAN fabrics
  • Visibility & Intelligence: Enabled through Cisco Silicon and SAN Analytics and Insights providing deep fabric visibility with scalable self-learning capabilities at microsecond granularity (for every SCSI or FC-NVMe flow).
  • Automation: Leveraging Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller RESTful API to support MDS switch-based NX-API, Python SDK, Ansible modules to simplify fabric deployment and to lower complexity and costs.
  • Congestion Management: Achieved through a Cisco-unique innovation designed to alleviate SAN congestion with no dependency on hosts or storage. This is further enhanced through Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller Congestion Analysis capabilities that helps proactively identify and help solve fabric level congestion.
  • Investment Protection & Extensibility: Ability to leverage the same modular MDS chassis through each major fabric technology evolution (e.g., 16G to 64G migration and adoption of NVMe over FC), thereby eliminating the dreaded and highly disruptive forklift upgrades. This was a design principle for the MDS modular chassis architecture from day 1. Extensibility makes adoption easier and the infrastructure more sustainable.

Figure: Cisco MDS 9000 portfolio

An Opportunity to Thank Our Customers & Partners

What has not changed in the last two decades is our commitment to our storage networking customers in supporting their business-critical mission. Our customers are in some of the most demanding vertical industries including financial services, government, media & entertainment, manufacturing, and many others. These are environments where the workloads require highest levels of performance, reliability, and uptime and where Fibre Channel remains the most popular storage networking protocol.

Cisco intends to continue supporting our existing customers and new ones through further innovation and for years to come. I am grateful for our go-to-market and technology partners, many of whom have been with us since the beginning. These partners are critical as storage customers prefer to purchase their networking solutions as fully integrated, tested, and validated packages that also include storage systems, software, peripherals, and service/support agreements.

Cisco is fortunate for our long-standing and enduring storage partnerships that have resulted in many customer successes and compelling joint innovations. I gave our partners an opportunity to provide their own perspectives on how this partnership has evolved over these two decades:

“Through our decades-long, valued partnership with Cisco, we’ve served customers’ business-critical data and infrastructure needs. Cisco has brought innovation to Fibre Channel networking with key MDS features, such as virtual SANs, complementing Dell’s high-end storage systems and helping make customer data secure and always available.
Dave Lincoln, Vice President, Networking and Emerging Server Solutions, Dell Technologies.

Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen our partnership grow and expand to address the changing needs of our customers and the emerging requirements for new products, solutions, services, and consumption models. Together, we’ve focused on co-creating and delivering offerings that allow our customers to capitalize on their data from the edge through the cloud and to the core. We remain excited and bullish about what’s next for our partnership and the kinds of outcomes we can deliver for our customers and for the world over the next 20 years.”
Mark Ablett, President, Digital Infrastructure Business Unit, Hitachi Vantara

IBM is proud to be Cisco’s only OEM partner with MDS technology. Our 20-year history of joint development with Cisco for FICON and Fibre Channel technology with MDS has driven value at many IBM zSystems, IBM Storage, and Red Hat OpenShift customers.  As our joint customer base grows and we assist our customers with data center modernization, IBM c-type Storage Networking with autonomic path reset capability, based on Cisco MDS technology, will be a key part of the long-term value IBM Storage delivers.
Sam Werner, VP, Product Management, IBM Storage

Congratulations to Cisco MDS on their 20th anniversary of delivering state-of-the-art Fibre Channel switches and directors to the industry. Over the past two decades, our longstanding relationship has been defined by a shared commitment to innovation, interoperability, and a track record of delivering cutting-edge solutions to our mutual customers. Marvell® QLogic® 32GFC and 64GFC HBAs with the latest capabilities of congestion mitigation powered by Virtual Lane technology extend the Cisco MDS Virtual Link capability to host and storage systems. This is a testament to the power of our continued collaboration, and I am excited for the future as we continue to achieve success together.”
Matt Kim, Vice President of Marketing, Server Connectivity Business Unit, Marvell

NetApp is excited to congratulate Cisco on MDS’s 20th anniversary. This milestone marks a long and valued partnership that brings best of class solutions to the SAN market with MDS and FlexPod united in joint innovation.”
Phil Brotherton, VP Solutions and Alliances, NetApp

Looking ahead

There’s no doubt that digital information, aka data, has never been more important for our customers. Data has been described as everything from the “new oil” to the “lifeblood” of modern enterprises and the digital economy. Data is a treasure trove of insights that can help build smarter products, deliver better customer service, and outpace competitors. Storage area networks connect data and applications securely and reliably. That function is more critical than ever. As long as that’s the case, expect Cisco to continue innovating in the storage networking space.

Get more information about the Cisco MDS 9000



Thomas Scheibe

Vice President, Product Management

Cloud Networking