Cisco MDS 9000 FICON Solutions

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.

Cisco MDS 9000 FICON FAQ (PDF - 166 KB)Adobe PDF file

Q. Does IBM support Fibre Connection (FICON) on the Cisco® MDS 9700 Series (9710 and 9706 in particular)?
A. Yes. The MDS 9710 chassis was first IBM-qualified with Cisco NX-OS Software Release 6.2(5a). The MDS 9706 chassis was IBM-qualified in Release 6.2(11c). In both releases, all previously supported hardware platforms were also renewed in their qualification, including the MDS 9513, MDS 9509, MDS 9506, and MDS 9222i. You can find all IBM qualification letters on the Interoperability tab.

Q. Do the Cisco MDS 9700 FICON Multilayer Directors support IBM's Forward Error Correction (FEC) as seen on the FICON Express 16S feature on the IBM System z13?
A. Yes. FEC is supported today on the MDS 9710 and MDS 9706 with NX-OS Release 6.2(11c). FEC is also supported for 16-GB Inter-Switch Links (ISLs) between MDS 9700 Series systems.

Q. Does the MDS 9250i support FICON?
A. Yes. FICON is supported on the MDS 9250i starting with NX-OS Software Release 6.2(11c) and later.

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. You can use it for both configuration and control of the director if desired. The System z also can use this interface to gather performance statistics from the director. The CUP feature is included as part of the Mainframe license.

Q.Do the MDS 9700 FICON Multilayer Directors support the new System z13 FICON Dynamic Routing feature?
A. Yes. All MDS systems that support FICON on the NX-OS Release 6.2(5a) have FICON Dynamic Routing. In fact, this feature is nothing new; for Cisco this feature is called Originator Exchange ID (OXID)-based routing, and it has been present in the MDS for more than 10 years. Before implementing FICON Dynamic Routing between the System z13 and the MDS FICON Multilayer Directors, it is important to verify that all of the peripherals (disk, tape, etc.) in the FICON virtual storage area network (VSAN) also support this feature.

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