Cisco MDS 9000 FICON Solutions

SAN Innovation Announcement

Cisco extends MDS Portfolio to Small SANs and Private Cloud.

SAN Innovation Announcement
Get Three Times the Bandwidth

Get Three Times the Bandwidth

Cisco MDS 9710 offers more capacity than other SAN directors.

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Deliver Smart Storage Services

Deliver Smart Storage Services

Extend and accelerate SAN connectivity across data centers.

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The Cisco MDS 9000 platform offers mainframe IBM Fiber Connection (FICON) intermix with complete traffic and management isolation and advanced distance extension, quality of service, and scaling.

MDS 9000 Mainframe Package

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, the MDS 9500 family, and the MDS 9222i.

The MDS 9000 Mainframe package includes a number of features, listed below.

  • Support for virtual SANs (VSANs) allows for workload isolation, division of management, and control of fault-domains all within a single platform with highest reliability and scalability.
  • Support for the IBM CUP interface within each FICON VSAN allows management and performance data collection natively from the System z.
  • Support for cascaded FICON topologies offers customers the ability to 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) through channel-acceleration logic for FICON over Fiber Channel over IP (FCIP). Customers get integrated encryption and compression for FCIP links.

MDS 9710 Multilayer Director


The Cisco MDS 9710 FICON and Fiber Channel director sets a new standard for availability and performance for connection to the IBM System z. It supports 16 Gigabit Fiber Channel and is ready for 16 Gigabit FICON when it becomes available. FICON support for the MDS 9710 begins with Cisco NX-OS Software Release 6.2(5a).

Hardware features include:

  • 384 non-blocking, line-rate 16 Gbs ports in the MDS 9710
  • Support for host and device connection at 2G/4G/8G and 4G/8G/16G as well as 10 Gbs InterSwitch Links (ISLs)
  • Both Longwave and Shortwave optics are supported
  • N+1 switch fabric cards for consistent performance even in a fabric card failure
  • N+1 and grid redundancy for power
  • Enough bandwidth for support of 32 Gbs FICON and Fiber Channel
  • Full support for IBM FICON environments

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 insure interoperability between the Cisco FICON solutions and the real and virtual tape solutions from Oracle.

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.

Q. Are FCIP links supported for FICON? Are FCIP links supported by IBM?
A. Absolutely. Cisco has supported FCIP on the MDS since our first release in 2004, and it has been IBM-qualified from the start.

Q. Are there restrictions on the topology of FICON fabrics?
A. Yes. In general, FICON fabrics are deployed in simple topologies. The rationale for this is that mainframe environments are usually most concerned with stability. For instance, complex fabrics can make it more complicated to debug performance problems.

When FCIP is not being used, only one hop (ISL) is allowed between the director with the host and the director with the control unit. For FCIP environments, there are several supported topologies, allowing for separation of the FCIP node from the host/device connection directors (these topologies are documented in the IBM qualification letters). Contact Cisco for additional questions.