Cisco MDS 9000 FICON Solutions

Get Three Times the Bandwidth

Cisco MDS 9710 offers more capacity than other SAN directors.

Get Three Times the Bandwidth

The Cisco MDS 9000 platform offers a mainframe IBM fiber connection (FICON) intermix. It includes complete traffic and management isolation and advanced distance extension, quality of service, and scaling.

Improve Performance and Flexibility

IBM mainframes have been the workhorses of the computing world for almost 50 years and many large organizations still entrust IBM System z servers with their most mission-critical and demanding applications.

The Cisco MDS 9000 Mainframe package can enable the connection of Cisco MDS storage directors with the IBM System z server with both FICON and FCP. This support includes the MDS 9700 family, the MDS 9500 family, the MDS 9250i and the MDS 9222i.

The MDS 9000 Mainframe package includes a number of features, including:

  • Support for Virtual SANs (VSANs)
    This helps to enable workload isolation, division of management, and control of fault-domains all within a single platform, with superior reliability and scalability.
  • Support for the IBM CUP interface
    This support within each FICON VSAN allows for management and performance data collection natively from the System z.
  • Support for Cascaded FICON Topologies
    Customers can now scale in large FICON environments. They can also support FICON environments spanning across multiple data centers.
  • Support for Long Distance Tape and Remote Disk Replication (GDPS-XRC)
    Support is offered through channel-acceleration logic for FICON over Fiber Channel over IP (FCIP). Customers get integrated encryption and compression for FCIP links.
  • Support for IBM's New System z13
    This includes support for the new FICON Express 16S feature including complete interoperability with the Forward Error Correction (FEC) capabilities.

Improve Agility, Simplify Management, and Cut Costs

Cisco MDS 9710 and 9706 Multilayer Directors


The Cisco MDS 9710 and 9706 FICON and Fibre Channel multilayer directors set a new standard for availability and performance for connection to the IBM z System. They support 16 Gigabit FICON and Fibre Channel and are fully interoperable with the new IBM z13. FICON support for the MDS 9710 begins with NX-OS 6.2(5a) and support for the MDS 9706 begins with NX-OS 6.2(11c).


Hardware/Software Features include:

  • 384 non-blocking, line-rate 16G ports in the MDS 9710 / 192 non-blocking, line rate 16G ports in the MDS 9706
  • Support for host and device connection at 2G/4G/8G and 4G/8G/16G as well as 10G ISLs. Both Longwave and Shortwave optics are supported
  • Support for 16G FICON Forward Error Correction (FEC) feature on the System z13 as well as 16G ISLs
  • Support for IBM FICON Dynamic Routing on the System z13 processor
  • Cisco TrustSec line-rate link encryption for FICON / FC ISLs
  • N+1 Switch Fabric cards meaning consistent performance even through a fabric card failure
  • N+1 and grid redundancy for power
  • Enough bandwidth for support of 32G FICON/FC
  • Full support for IBM FICON environments including IBM CUP management interface


The Cisco MDS 9250i Multiservice Fabric Switch


This switch provides highly scalable SAN extension capabilities for the System z environment. The System provides both 16 Gbps FICON and FCP as well as a pair of 10 Gigabit FCIP links that can be used for long distance applications.
FICON support for the MDS 9250i was introduced with NX-OS Release 6.2(11c).


Hardware/Software Features include:

  • 40 line-rate 16G FICON / FC Ports
  • 2 10G Fibre Channel over IP Ports (FCIP)
  • Support for host and device connection at 2G/4G/8G and 4G/8G/16G as well as 10G FCIP Links. Both Longwave and Shortwave optics are supported.
  • FICON Tape Acceleration feature with tape write/read data pipelining to increase performance for virtual and real tape systems
  • FICON XRC Acceleration to enable data pipelining of dynamic disk updates for environments at distances over 200km
  • Hardware-based, line-rate payload compression and encryption for FCIP links
  • Support for IBM FICON Dynamic Routing on the System z13 processor
  • Full support for IBM FICON environments including IBM CUP management interface.


For System z environments, reliability and stability out of the box are critical. Given this, Cisco partners with IBM to do interoperability testing of Cisco FICON solutions. This testing is done at the IBM Poughkeepsie Programming Lab where all new System z models are tested.

Testing includes:

  • Function compliance to interoperate with the System z
  • High stress of real System z traffic (no packet blasters)
  • Recovery from common failure scenarios
  • Validation of In-Service Software Upgrade and downgrade under stress
  • Usability and manageability of the MDS director

IBM FICON Qualification Letters for the Cisco MDS Family

Cisco also does qualification testing with Oracle (previously SUN and StorageTek) to help ensure interoperability between the Cisco FICON solutions and the real and virtual tape solutions from Oracle.

MDS 9000—Q&A (PDF - 166 KB)Adobe PDF file

Q. Is FICON supported by IBM on the MDS 9710?
A. Yes. The MDS 9710 chassis was IBM-qualified with Cisco NX-OS Software Release 6.2(5a). In the same qualification, the MDS 9513, MDS 9509, MDS 9506, and MDS 9222i were also qualified. The IBM qualification letter can be found on the Interop tab.

Q. Does FICON on the MDS support Control Unit Port (CUP)?
A. Yes. CUP is the inline management interface between the System z and the FICON VSAN. This can be used for both configuration and control of the director if desired. This interface can also be used by the System z to gather performance statistics from the director.

Q. Does the MDS support FICON Intermix with open systems?
A. Yes. Intermix is fully supported and qualified with IBM. The best-practice recommendation is to use VSANs to separate FICON workloads from open systems workloads. Consideration should be given to the fact that not all Cisco NX-OS releases are IBM FICON-qualified (due to the high cost).

Q. Does the MDS 9250i support FICON?
A. No. At this time, the MDS 9250i does not support FICON. Cisco is currently investigating this option and should update the roadmap soon.

Q. Does Cisco support customers running non-IBM FICON-qualified releases?
A. Yes. Cisco supports FICON on all subsequent releases of microcode after the initial release for a given platform. For instance, MDS 9710 will be supported on all NX-OS releases after 6.2(5a). We do recommend the IBM FICON release be used if at all possible as there is significant additional testing done at IBM as part of the IBM FICON qualification.