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Brocade blasts Cisco on director switch power consumption

In a side-by-side comparison of Fibre Channel director switches at Storage Decisions, Brocade claims it is three times more power efficient than Cisco.

CHICAGO -- The heat is on in the Fibre Channel director switching market. In a side-by-side comparison of power efficiency at the Storage Decisions show this week, Brocade Communications Inc. claimed its 48000 Director is two to three times more energy efficient than the Cisco Systems Inc. MDS 9513.

With the rising cost of energy across the U.S., data centers are not only looking at the power and cooling bill for servers and storage but everything else in the data center, including the network equipment.

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"It's all coming out of the same pie -- the fabric is not as big a draw as the servers, but we need to understand the power consumption of all the pieces," said Jeff Caldwell, director of storage at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange (CBOE). He's managing a Brocade storage area network (SAN) of just over 1,000 ports.

Another user, James Jancewicz, storage architect at Aetna Inc., said his company currently buys power from Canada and transports it to the company's headquarters in Hartford, Conn., which works out cheaper than buying it locally. "We're watching every drop of power," he said. Aetna has 12 director switches from Brocade, and according to Jancewicz, the company's data center manager "wouldn't touch" Cisco's Directors after he'd seen the power requirements.

While Brocade's announcement is clearly a headline-grabbing stunt, it's worth taking note of the bake-off results that have been confirmed in a lab validation report by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and moderated by an independent electrician.

According to the ESG report, a fully populated 384-port 48000 Director from Brocade would consume 2.62 watts per port or 734 kW hours per month, versus a 348-port Cisco MDS 9513, which consumes 6.4 watts per port or 1770 kW hours per month. The carbon footprint, or the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in metric tonnes per year, for Brocade's Director was 3.26 metric tonnes. Cisco's MDS 9513 reportedly came out at 9.04 metric tonnes, when both chassis were fully populated, according to the report. To put this in perspective the average car weighs approximately two tonnes. [Editors note: A metric tonne is 1,000 kilograms. An Imperial ton is 1016.05 kilograms.]

It turns out Brocade gets this greener image by accident. The company's first Director, the 12000, had well-known power issues. "It would definitely run hot," acknowledged Mario Blandini, director of product marketing at Brocade. This forced the company to address power issues early on in the design of its product. Now, two generations later, its ASIC is five times more power efficient than the original 12000, according to Blandini. Brocade also uses back-to-front cooling to minimize the electricity costs of its director switches and to allow the use of industry standard server racks. Back-to-front airflow means that the Brocade 48000 can be used in data centers that employ a hot-isle/cool-isle design for data center cooling efficiency.

Cisco did not return a request for comment on this story.

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