Product overview

In an attempt to establish a product category that resides above traditional directors, Brocade doesn't categorize its DCX Backbone as a director-class product. However, with four times the chassis bandwidth, significant energy efficiency and several feature enhancements, the DCX Backbone can be viewed as a "green" Brocade 48000 Director on steroids. Among the DCX Backbone enhancements are inter-chassis links (ICL) that allow cascading two DCX Backbone switches via a 512 Gbps pipe, integrated Fibre Channel routing, fabric-based encryption, and the separation of control processor and core switching blades. Unlike the 48000 Director and the Cisco MDS 9500 Series, the DCX Backbone doesn't support iSCSI natively and depends on external iSCSI gateways to interface with iSCSI SANs.

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Feature comparison

Brocade DCX Backbone

Cisco Systems Inc. MDS 9500


*DCX Backbone (eight port blades)
*DCX-4S Backbone (four port blades)

*MDS 9513 (11 port blades)
*MDS 9509 (seven port blades)
*MDS 9506 (four port blades)

Maximum port count



Bandwidth per slot

256 Gbps

96 Gbps

Biggest benefit

Fastest Fibre Channel (FC) director on the market. Significant lead in the total number of FC ports sold.

High degree of investment protection, long product lifecycle and coherent product line that uses the same NX-OS operating system

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) support

Will be available once the standard is ratified

Available now via the Nexus 5000 switch; for the MDS 9500, Nexus 2000 and Nexus 7000, it will be released on standard ratification

The DCX Backbone is available in two modular form factors. Built for large enterprise networks, the 14U Brocade DCX Backbone has eight vertical blade slots to provide up to 384 FC ports using Brocade-branded 4 Gbps or 8 Gbps small form-factor pluggables (SFPs). Built for midsized networks, the 8U Brocade DCX-4S Backbone has four horizontal blade slots to provide up to 192 Fibre Channel ports. Additionally, each chassis has two slots for redundant control processor blades and two more slots for redundant core switching blades that move traffic between blades.

With the Cisco MDS 9100 Series rack-mountable fabric switches at the low end and the midrange MDS 9200 Series -- which provides MDS 9500-equivalent features at a smaller form factor and lower cost by sacrificing redundancy and scalability -- the MDS 9500 director family tops Cisco's coherent FC switch product line. Cisco offers three MDS 9500 models: The MDS 9513, supporting a record 512 8 Gbps FC ports, with a total of nine slots for line cards and two slots for redundant supervisor modules, is targeted at enterprise networks with high port count requirements. For smaller networks and as edge devices, Cisco offers the MDS 9509 featuring nine slots, and the MDS 9506 with six slots.

Introduced by Cisco in 2002, the MDS 9500 is on track to follow the Catalyst 6500 Ethernet switch family in prolonging its life toward a decade, displaying longevity that's rare in the fast moving high-tech arena where assets usually depreciate in three to five years. "MDS 9506 and 9509 switches that shipped in 2002 still support 8 Gbps FC and will support FCoE," confirmed Paolo Perazzo, senior product line manager, Cisco's Data Center Switching Technology Group. In contrast, during the same period, Brocade has brought five different director platforms (12000, SilkWorm 24000, 48000, DCX Backbone and McData i10K) to market.

"Brocade is a smaller but very innovative company with shorter product lifecycles, partnering with best-of-breed vendors. Cisco, on the other hand, has a record of designing architectures that last for many years," noted Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Mass.

A case in point is the DCX Backbone. "The main difference between the 48000 and DCX is the separation and rearchitecture of the core switching and control processor blades into separate blades, which required a new chassis design," said Bill Dunmire, senior product marketing manager at Brocade.

This was first published in June 2009

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