Director or not, Brocade Backbone surfaces

Brocade is positioning its new DCX Backbone, which supports 8 Gbps Fibre Channel, as a device that can manage the entire data center, rather than just SANs, putting it squarely in competition with Cisco's Data Center 3.0.

Brocade today pushed out the data center product its executives have talked about since last summer: its DCX Backbone device that supports 8 Gbps Fibre Channel and will support emerging Ethernet and Fibre Channel protocols.

The DCX Backbone is available through Sun Microsystems Inc. and directly from Brocade. Other major storage vendors, including EMC Corp., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., are expected to qualify and ship the device over the next few weeks.

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With the DCX Backbone, Brocade is taking aim at Cisco Systems Inc.'s emerging Data Center 3.0 platform also announced last summer. Cisco is preparing to start shipping devices that will make up that platform, although its SAN directors won't get any immediate update, and it will hold off on 8 Gbit Fibre Channel until late 2008.

Brocade executives have spent as much time explaining what the DCX Backbone isn't as they have spent spreading the word about what it is. You hear "it's not a director" from Brocade people so often you'd think it was the product's code name. They position it as a device that can manage the entire data center, rather than just SANs, putting it squarely in competition with Cisco's Data Center 3.0.

Of course, the "it's not a director" line is a tough sell since the product is physically similar to the Brocade 48000 director, has many characteristics of a director, and will be used the same way by lots of customers. The DCX Backbone has 384 ports, but scales to 768 storage and server ports by trunking two together.

"In my opinion, it is a director," said Greg Schulz, analyst with the StorageIO Group. "What makes a director? Resiliency, flexibility, no single point of failure, high speed, robust, scalable performance, bladed architecture, multiprotocol support. If that's what they're announcing, that's a director.

"If they're trying to direct traffic away from their director business, than it's not a director."

Brocade will continue to sell its current directors -- the 48000 and the Mi10K and M6140 it acquired from McData Corp. -- although only the 48000 supports 8 Gbit Fibre Channel. Brocade director of product marketing Mario Blandini envisions organizations using their current directors to fan into the Backbone.

"The Backbone is not just for the SAN, but for several types of architecture," Blandini said. "It meets higher requirements for bandwidth and performance, and has more feature functionality than a director."

In other words, it's more than a Fibre Channel device and can be used to manage all data center networks instead of only the SAN. The DCX Backbone supports Fibre Channel and iSCSI, and Brocade pledges support for 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE), enhanced Ethernet, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and encryption later this year. The Backbone also runs applications, such as EMC RecoverPoint and Invista, and Fujitsu Eternus.

"To get to that converged network, you have to support all these interfaces," Schulz said. "Would that put Brocade closer into traditional Cisco territory? Absolutely. If they don't take that step, they will get stepped on by Cisco. They have to get aggressive."

Brocade seeks to benefit from getting the jump on Cisco with 8 Gbit connectivity the way it did from being first out with 4 Gbit in 2004. But Cisco is in no hurry to offer 8 Gbit. Deepak Munjal, Cisco's manager of data center marketing, pointed out that, unlike the move from 2 Gbit to 4 Gbit, the jump to 8 Gbit will carry a price premium because it requires different optics.

"We'll have 8 Gbit Fibre Channel later this year, when the market is ready," Munjal said. "Because of the expense of optics, we don't see a quick adoption for 8 Gbit."

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