First Look: Brocade's SilkWorm Multiprotocol Router

Brocade Communications Systems' SilkWorm Multiprotocol Router links SAN islands with software-assignable ports that can communicate via three different ports.

Brocade's multiprotocol router offers broad support and easy configuration


At a Glance: Brocade's SilkWorm Multiprotocol Router
What it is:
Multiprotocol router.
What it does:
Allows communication among SANs.
Software-assignable ports can communicate by three different protocols; router ports can isolate functions via LSANs.
Relatively expensive on a per-port basis.
Brocade sells through OEMs, who determine pricing.
@exe Enterprise IT organizations often operate several storage area networks (SANs) to support business units and other company entities. But SAN islands are a problem when you need to get data from SAN A to a server or application attached to SAN B. This need may arise for a variety of reasons, such as for backup, a newly installed application or because of organizational changes.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s new SilkWorm Multiprotocol Router connects SAN islands from different manufacturers, with different protocols, over Fibre Channel (FC) or IP links. The router's 16 ports can be software configured for FC and gigabit Ethernet connections. Three communication services can run on each port: FC-to-FC communications, FCIP tunneling or an iSCSI gateway. The big win is that the different ports can provide needed communications using familiar Brocade management software.

Mario Blandini, product marketing manager for Brocade, says the router's key feature is its ability to provide interconnectivity without a lot of downtime and finagling. As SAN islands proliferate, they can have identical domain names (SAN A, for example). When a storage administrator tries to connect identically named SANs, the result is a domain- name conflict that could require a SAN to be renamed. This means taking the SAN offline and changing the references to it throughout the storage environment. The SilkWorm router's network address translation greatly simplifies the name-change process, allowing domain-name conflicts to be eliminated without downtime.

Of course, the same domain-name problem can be solved without the Brocade router. But "many of the ways you could do this are painful," says Blandini, "especially application downtime."

Randy Kerns, senior partner at the Evaluator Group Inc., Greenwood Village, CO, likes the router's logical private SAN (LSAN) technology, a feature similar to Cisco Systems' virtual SAN (VSAN)-port technology on its switches. VSANs allow you to isolate certain applications and storage devices in a group of SANs for security, debugging or development work. Some competing solutions, Kerns says, offer software zoning, "but you may have cases where you want the device available to multiple zones. You can't do that without logical SANs." For example, if you want a tape library to back up multiple SANs, Brocade's SilkWorm router connects the tape library to the different SANs without merging the SANs.

Brocade sells this router only through its OEMs, including Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and NEC. Pricing will vary. According to Brocade, pricing for the SilkWorm Multiprotocol Router ranges between $35,000 and $80,000, based on port configuration (8- or 16-port), software feature options and support levels. But the Evaluator Group, in a product overview, says that given the capabilities of this product, it should be relatively expensive on a per-port basis.

"As such, routers should be deployed with care to aggregate SANs, rather than provide direct connections to servers and storage devices," the report states.

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