Brocade simplifies small SANs

Brocade releases two switches for the SMB market with color-coding scheme to simplify the technology

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Brocade Communications today announced two new switches that will extend its footprint into the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market.

Along with the rest of the IT market, Brocade has figured out that the economic recovery appears to be taking place in this sector first.

"Because of the economy, prices are lower, the kit is less expensive and these companies can afford to get into the market now," says Jay Kidd, CTO of Brocade's infrastructure group. Conversely, "enterprises are still very cautious on spending," he says.

Formally code-named Dazzler, the new switches include the Silkworm 3250 (8 ports) and the Silkworm 3850 (16 ports). These products are the first new hardware releases from Brocade in over a year, Kidd says and there's more to come at the end of April.

Brocade is sticking firmly to its Fibre Channel roots with the new switches despite the growing popularity of IP SANs at the low-end of the market. "The battle for SMBs will be between IP SANs versus FC," Kidd acknowledges. He says that small businesses didn't buy SANs in the past because of the high cost of FC, but this is changing.

"A year ago a mid-range switch cost $1000 a port, now HP is selling our new 8-port switch at below $500 a port," Kidd notes. Brocade's OEM partners HP, IBM, StorageTek and Sun Microsystems have indicated plans to include the 3250 and the 3850 in their SAN offerings. Details are still in the works. It's worth noting that while FC switch port prices might be coming down, FC HBAs are still expensive and could be the Achilles' heel for small networks where cost is concerned.

Brocade will offer iSCSI to FC bridging to support IP SANs but its focus remains strictly on driving the cost of FC down, Kidd says.

The new switches have the same firmware as the rest of the Silkworm family and a software upgrade path is possible through increased license fees as customers require more functionality and scale. Pricing will be set by Brocade's OEM partners.

We've given these switches the most important functions at the lowest cost," says Kidd. This includes hot code load activation, zoning for secure access and web-based configuration. The switches also support ISLs (inter-switch linking) to cascade them together at 2GB. However, they do not ship with the ability to aggregate multiple ports into a trunk, used for building large scale SANs and creating high-speed links between different sites, this must be purchased through a software license key. And additional monitoring tools for end-to-end health checks are only available on the mid-range switches, as is advanced security configuration enforcement.

Besides pushing the cost of FC down, Brocade says it is working hard to simplify the technology. Fibre Channel has long been known as one of the most complex networking standards to work with, requiring considerable expertise to manage. "We are working to reduce the fear factor," Kidd says.

The company is creating a color-coding scheme to make things easier for first time SAN administrators. "You'll plug the red cables into storage and the green ones into servers," says Kidd. In addition, adding servers to zones is a complex job that requires understanding technical jargon like port IDs and world wide naming. To avoid this torture, Brocade is building a wizard that enables admins to give servers and storage regular names. "This way they can easily work out what storage device needs to talk to which server and authorize it by server name," Kidd notes. "Putting a soft and fuzzy wrapper around SAN technology we think will be helpful for SMBs," he says. More details on this are expected next month.

Peter Hull, SAN infrastructure designer at BT Exact is a long time Brocade customer and thinks the company's move down market is sensible given the momentum in this space. However, Hull says, "The only problem with small switches, is that they rapidly become too small."

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