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Brocade to add FCoE blade to DCX in 2010; disagrees with Cisco on FCoE adoption rate

Beth Pariseau

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. plans to have several storage protocol irons in the fire over the next year or so, saying the transition to Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) will be slower

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than competitor Cisco Systems Inc. expects and slower than the market had anticipated before the recession.

During Brocade's Technology Day on Tuesday, chief technology officer David Stevens said the company plans to add an FCoE blade for its DCX data center backbone switch, as well as a Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) blade for Foundry Network's MLX Ethernet switch in 2010. Brocade is also developing converged network adapters (CNAs) for Fibre Channel over Ethernet and CEE to go along with its Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs).

But this doesn't mean Brocade is "taking its foot off the gas" of Fibre Channel development, Stevens said. The company is already developing 16 Gbps Fibre Channel support for the DCX, HBAs and CNAs. "We will have a full portfolio of 16 gig Fibre Channel in the marketplace going forward," he said.

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Brocade envisions a high-speed core of 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) or 100 GbE, which offers one physical interface plug for servers and data storage that carries FC and IP traffic. "Going forward, the network has to provide integrated protocol translation at very, very high speed," Stevens said in his presentation.

During a Q&A session, Stevens pointed out that Brocade still supports storage protocols such as ESCON and FICON for attachment to mainframes, and predicted Fibre Channel will be around as a protocol for quite a long time. Moreover, he said, the recession is pushing back evaluations and adoption of new infrastructure into the back end of 2010 and beyond.

"We're dedicated and committed to the technology going forward, but we're committed at a rate consistent with the ability of customers to consume and use it effectively," he said.

Brocade's roadmap for 2010 includes plans for developing all of the protocols and components in its portfolio. Its 10 Gigabit Ethernet and top-of-rack switches will get more ports, and there are plans for 40 GbE and 100 GbE support for core switches.

Clashing philosophies between Cisco and Brocade

Stevens also emphasized that Brocade will focus on integrating a "virtual access layer" to the network infrastructure with orchestration and provisioning software already available from partners, in pointed contrast to Cisco Systems, which recently alienated OEM partners Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and IBM by launching its own server product, the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS).

At times thinly veiled, at times overt, the rivalry between Cisco and Brocade was present throughout the Brocade Technology Day discussions. Clearly, Brocade and Cisco are bringing different philosophies to the table as data center networks converge. Cisco Systems has been much more bullish on the adoption rate for FCoE than Brocade and has made less-definite statements about support for 16 Gbps Fibre Channel. The Cisco approach with UCS is one of vertical integration, for users who want to deploy turnkey infrastructures. Brocade, meanwhile, remains committed to multiple protocols and focused on building up its partnerships to support heterogeneous "best-of-breed" environments. Stevens mentioned IBM several times, and Brocade also issued a press release Tuesday announcing that HP has qualified 4 Gbps and 8 Gbps FC host bus adapters for use with ProLiant servers, Modular Smart Array (MSA) and Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA). Hewlett-Packard will also resell Brocade's 8000 series FCoE top-of-rack switches.

Brocade has taken a substantial share in Fibre Channel since the fourth quarter of 2007, which is when DCX was launched, according to the Dell'Oro Group's "1Q09 SAN Report."

"Cisco is an Ethernet company," said Tam Dell'Oro, president at Dell'Oro Group. "That's the way the company optimizes its business – it tries to get all traffic onto the IP network. Brocade, coming from a Fibre Channel background, maybe isn't so urgent to have customers migrate."

Cisco officials at this spring's EMC World 2009 said Cisco Systems plans to keep its MDS Fibre Channel director, but Dell'Oro pointed out that Cisco was already the only storage networking vendor to lose share in 8 Gbps Fibre Channel. "The others might've been flat, but not down sequentially," she said.

"I think there's been a shift," said Mark Fabbi, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "From 2002 to 2008, customers clearly voted with their dollars that they just wanted to follow Cisco. But from the beginning of 2008 and accelerating as time goes on, the ruling dynamic has been scrutiny and taking more control over investments."

But the debate is not over. "Some customers want to align themselves with a vendor that will take care of them in a more comprehensive and complete way," Fabbi said.

Added Dell'Oro, "Cisco's not just going to lay down and let Brocade take their market share."


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