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Brocade vs. McData: Who's really winning in switch technology?

Since the dawn of SAN time, when it came to hefty director-class switches, McData was the company to beat. They pretty much owned the market. But Brocade, a lower-end player, has been trying to turn the tables on McData with the introduction of its SilkWorm 12000 products. Who's winning?

According to analyst John Webster, of the Data Mobility Group, McData still looks pretty strong and Brocade seems to be having trouble getting off the dime. "McData has a stronghold in the director class and is trying to move to the edge while Brocade has a fortress in the edge and is trying to move to the middle," he explains. However, he notes, the real battle is over the core. "The core of the fabric is the center of the chessboard, that's what you want to control," he adds.

So far, according to Arun Taneja, an independent storage analyst, Brocade's effort to get control of that middle is falling short. For starters, they have crafted a creature that is neither fish nor fowl. "They call it a core switch but to me it looks like a director switch that is just missing some functionality," he said. However, what's missing is crucial features, such as nondisruptive microcode loading -- which both McData and Inrange -- another contender in the director space, already provide. Taneja said Brocade has committed to fixing the problem and beefing up the product further but it hasn't happened yet. "When you are talking director class you need to be talking five-nines availability," he said.

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"Without those fixes, the Brocade product doesn't make the grade," he said.

Another analyst, who asked not be quoted by name, was even more forthright. "As far as I can tell, the Brocade product has not shipped to expectation," he said. "For now it is just a nice way to aggregate 128 ports but it isn't a real director class product," he added.

Meanwhile, McData is making a play for the edge. There, the source noted, McData has gone to the market's midrange with its 4500 product and traditional 32-port products. Moving forward, he added, the industry will see an expansion in intelligent switches and network controllers.

However, Taneja pointed out that edge switches will still get used for fan-out purpose while the backbone becomes home for the director class products. "I don't think that it is reasonable to expect that we will ever live in a pure director-based world," he said. "The real world will be a mixture of director and edge switches," he said, "and for now, McData has the edge in switches."

Ed. Update: A Brocade spokesperson tells SearchStorage.com that hot-code load was added to the Silkworm in March, along with other high-availability features.

For more information:

Expert advice: SAN topologies, part 1: Know your switch options

Featured article: Brocade debuts 2 Gbit/sec 8-port switch for low-end networks

Expert advice: McData adds LUN management to SANavigator tool


  • Alan Earls often writes about things NAS and SAN the "SAN/NAS Update: Trends" column. View the latest
  • About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.


    This was first published in February 2003

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