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SNW '04: 4 Gbps FC products step it up a notch

Jo Maitland, News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Brocade Communications Systems Inc. unveiled its 4 gigabits per second (Gbps) Fibre Channel (FC) switch family at Storage Networking World on Monday, a stop-gap speed before the industry faces a major forklift upgrade to 10 Gbps FC a few years from now.

Brocade's SilkWorm 4100 4 Gbps switch, available in the first quarter of 2005, is offered in three configurations -- 16, 24 and 32 ports -- for the same price per port as the company's 2 Gbps switches. These sell for around $1,000 per port today.

A new ports-on-demand feature allows users to turn on more ports as needed, while all ports are auto-sensing for backwards compatibility with 1 and 2 Gbps switches. The 4100s are the first to use Brocade's fifth-generation application-specific integrated circuit supporting an aggregate bandwidth of 256 Gbps in the 32-port configuration.

The new chip provides up to eight ports per trunk, which allows full-duplex trunk data rates up to 32 Gbps between switches. Inter-switch link trunking with Dynamic Path Selection routes data to the most efficient available path in the fabric for load balancing purposes, Brocade claims. "It is way more than people need today," admits a Brocade spokesman, "but it's a way to future-proof your network."

Need for speed?

Still, very few users have saturated their 2 Gbps links, and analysts say those that do need more speed, like media production companies, are already using10 Gbps Ethernet. Others

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are in no hurry to make the upgrade. Scotty Logan, storage architect with Stanford University, said there are no plans at his place to replace its 2 Gbps switches, as they don't have the bandwidth requirements or the desire to rip out their existing infrastructure. "This is an initiative driven by the vendors. There aren't many networks out there that need this high speed," he said.

At one time, the FC switch suppliers were planning to move from 2 Gbps products straight to 10 Gbps, but they claim that because of the incompatibility between existing cabling and the interface on 10 Gbps switches, users will be reluctant to upgrade and will need interim speeds like 4 Gbps. With 10 Gbps, customers will have to replace all the cabling -- it's a serious forklift upgrade," said a spokesman for QLogic Inc.

For those that do need more speed, Emulex Corp. announced its new line of 4 Gbps I/O controllers and HBAs at the show. QLogic has been out with this technology for a while.

SANBlade Technology Inc. announced a 4 Gbps version of its VirtuaLUN Fibre Channel target emulation system. VirtuaLUN provides a virtual, configurable environment for testing FC infrastructure devices at a fraction of the cost of deploying physical disk arrays, it claims. The 4 Gbps VirtuaLUN will be available in the first quarter of 2005.

To prove the technology really exists, and works, there will be a demonstration at the show using multiple vendors' equipment at 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps. It will include three servers feeding data to a SAN through 4 Gbps HBAs provided by Emulex and QLogic, and a 4 Gbps Fibre Channel adapter from Agilent Technologies Inc. Fabric switches provided by QLogic concurrently run both speed links to the storage targets. Multiple Xyratex storage enclosures equipped with Seagate drives feature a switched back-end architecture created with Emulex embedded storage switches. Additional technologies for the demonstration will be supplied by Finisar, Intel Corp. and JDS Uniphase.

Separately, Brocade announced the latest version of its Fabric OS management software, Version 4.4. It can support 50 different switch IDs in a single fabric, up from 34 in the older version of the software. Added security features include support for RADIUS, SSL, HTTPS and DH-CHAP, which improve access and authorization to the management function of the switches. An historical performance monitoring capability provides modeling and trending analysis to let administrators see how the performance requirements of an application change over time. And following McData's lead, Brocade has added FICON control unit port support, which allows mainframe applications to reconfigure ports as needed.


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