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Brocade waves caution flag for Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Brocade says it will take at least three years for FCoE to emerge as a viable enterprise storage option, while rival Cisco expects FCoE deployment in the next year or two.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. used its Technology Day in New York today to put the brakes on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) expectations, saying the new protocol won't be much of a factor in enterprise storage networks for another three or four years.

Brocade's message is in contrast to its Fibre Channel switch rival Cisco, which forecasts volume FCoE deployments either next year or in 2010.

Brocade executives used the terms "misconception" and "confusion" when they spoke of FCoE. While claiming they fully support the pending FCoE standard, Brocade executives advised customers not to expect too much too soon. "We talked to a customer yesterday who said he wanted to deploy FCoE in December of this year," said Tom Buiocchi, Brocade marketing vice president. "We said, 'What are you going to use to deploy it?' There are no products yet."

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The customer Buiocchi spoke to is likely the exception, said Martin Skagen, chief architect of Brocade's Data Center Infrastructure Business Unit. Most enterprise storage shops will probably take their time in going to FCoE, he said. "Storage guys don't go crazy with new deployments."

Fibre Channel will remain the dominant protocol for enterprise storage until at least 2014, Skagen said. He laid out Brocade's expected roadmap for FCoE: Customers begin testing products in 2009 and use them for I/O consolidation of servers in 2010. Second-generation FCoE products come out in 2011, and native FCoE storage follows in 2012.

Brocade executives said they will support FCoE in the DCX Backbone director and roll out FCoE adapters and switches. But they pointed out barriers to early adoption, including the cost of FCoE equipment, the lack of completed standards for FCoE and Enhanced Ethernet, and the organizational issues, such as who manages the converged Fibre Channel-Ethernet network.

Meanwhile, Brocade is pushing ahead with Fibre Channel beyond its current 8 Gbps products. Brocade also presented a roadmap today for shipping 16 Gbit Fibre Channel products in 2011 and 32 Gbit Fibre Channel in 2014. Skagen described FCoE as "pure Fibre Channel, with a new transportation mechanism."

Battle for control of the converged network
Analysts see the difference in FCoE philosophies between Brocade and Cisco as a battle for control of the converged network, with Cisco looking for Ethernet gear to take over storage as well as networks, and Brocade counting on Fibre Channel remaining the dominant storage protocol. "Cisco tried to stall the Fibre Channel market [with its optimistic FCoE forecasts], and now Brocade is fighting back," said Kaushik Roy, a financial analyst with Pacific Growth Equities. "I think it makes sense."

Cisco tried to stall the Fibre Channel market with its optimistic FCoE forecasts, and now Brocade is fighting back.
Kaushik Roy
financial analystPacific Growth
Brocade also revealed future software products today, including a WAN replication application that uses data deduplication and compression allowing companies to move six to 12 times as much data on the same link. The product is expected in the second half of 2009, Skagen said, adding, "When I say deduplication, don't think Data Domain – this is not a backup thing. It does deduplication for data in flight."

Brocade will bring out new replication products for disaster recovery next year, and an encryption switch and DCX blade based on EMC's RSA and NetApp/Decru technologies in late 2008, Skagen added.

Brocade also said the 4-gig and 8-gig HBAs it disclosed in May are now generally available. No OEMs have qualified the HBAs yet, but Brocade executives say qualifications are imminent from several of its large partners.

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