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Brocade, Cisco expand data center platforms

Dave Raffo
Brocade and Cisco Systems Inc. rolled out additions to their data center connectivity platforms today. Brocade brought out a smaller version of its DCX Backbone director, while Cisco launched a larger Nexus switch.

The Brocade DCX-4S Backbone is a 192-port version of the 384-port 8 Gbps DCX Backbone that Brocade launched a year ago. The DCX-4S has four blade slots vs. the original DCX device's eight slots. The 4S version can be used as a smaller core backbone, implemented as an edge switch to complement the bigger DCX in large enterprises, or used as a router to move data between fabrics.

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Like the original DCX, the 4S can connect to Brocade's other directors and switches, and will support Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) through the addition of a blade for converged networks.

Brocade also upgraded the operating system used for managing its directors and switches. The Brocade Fabric OS 6.2 has a Virtual Fabrics feature that lets customers partition a physical switch into virtual fabrics that can be managed independently – similar to the VSAN capability of Cisco's MDS Fibre Channel director.

Until now, Brocade devices could be partitioned into separate admin domains for easier management, but individual ports couldn't be managed independently, according to senior product marketing manager Bill Dunmire. "Now we've taken it all the way through to actual traffic flow and control," he says. "A virtual fabric acts and looks like a separate switch and you manage it like a separate switch."

The DCX-4S Backbone is available today from Brocade, as well as from OEM partners Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Cisco beefs up FCoE device

The new Cisco Nexus 7018 is an 18-slot chassis that supports 512 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 768 1 gig Ethernet ports. The Nexus 7010, launched last year, holds up to 256 10 Gig or 384 1 gig Ethernet ports. The Nexus isn't an FC device, but is the central piece of Cisco's FCoE strategy. In addition, Cisco today rolled out the Nexus 5010 28-port switch that supports FC and FCoE, as well as 10 Gig and Data Center Ethernet (DCE).

"Today, the FCoE migration is primarily on the server side, combining separate HBAs [host bus adapters] and NICS into a converged network adapter," says Rajeev Bhardwaj, director of product management for the Cisco MDS FC platform. "You have a single I/O interface coming out that supports Fibre Channel and Ethernet. That goes to the Nexus switch where traffic gets split up so SAN traffic goes into a Fibre Channel infrastructure and LAN traffic goes into an Ethernet infrastructure."

Brocade, Cisco battle for data center supremacy

Brocade and Cisco have been going toe-to-toe with their next-generation data center platforms since the DCX and Nexus both launched last January. Brocade claims approximately 250 customers for the DCX, the same amount Cisco says is using its Nexus 7010. But the vendors have different visions about the timing of FCoE. Cisco says FCoE is already useful for consolidating devices and has customers using it, while Brocade maintains FCoE is at least a year or so away from having data center value. Brocade sees 8 Gbit FC as the next logical upgrade before organizations re-work their data centers for FCoE, although it showed how much it values Ethernet by acquiring Foundry Networks Inc. for $2.6 billion last year.

"I don't know if you can compare them side by side, but they're going down the same path to help automate the data center infrastructure and network storage infrastructure," says Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte of the DCX and Nexus. "Cisco's probably a little ahead on the FCoE story, but that's an immature market now and there's still time for Brocade to catch up."

Rob Stevenson, managing director of storage research at New York City-based market research firm TheInfoPro, says his company's research shows 8 gig and FCoE running neck and neck in planning among Fortune 1000 customers, but neither is top of mind yet.

"The curve for adoption for 8 gig and FCoE are almost one in the same now," he says. "Two percent say they're using it now, 19% say they're planning to adopt over the next 18 months and the rest have no plans."

IBM qualifies Brocade HBAs Brocade also announced that IBM Corp. has certified its 8 Gbit HBAs for the IBM System x server family.

Harry Petty, Brocade's HBA product marketing director, says EMC Corp., Hitachi Data Systems, LSI Corp.'s Engenio and Xiotech Corp. have also qualified the HBAs that Brocade launched last year.


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