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Brocade brings 8 Gbps to SAN blade server switch

Brocade completes the upgrade of its connectivity portfolio with 8 Gbps switch on SAN blade servers, beginning with Hewlett-Parckard's BladeSystem server.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. is rounding out 8 Gbps connectivity throughout its Fibre Channel product platform with its embedded SAN blade server switch, which has been qualified by Hewlett-Packard.

Brocade this week will officially disclose general availability of its 8 Gbit switch for the HP BladeSystem c-Class platform, although HP is already selling 24-port and 12-port configurations of the blade server with the Brocade switch.

HP is the first server vendor to complete qualification for the 8 Gbit blade switch, which it also still sells in a 4 Gbit version. Madhu Matta, vice president of Brocade's Server Connectivity division, said the 8 Gbit server switch module is in qualifications with all of the vendor's server OEM partners, including IBM and Dell.

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Matta said Brocade has eight OEM partners for its embedded blade switch, and it's hard to predict release dates but he expects most if not all of the blades to be available with 8 Gbit this year. "Every OEM has a different release date because they're all custom designed," he said.

Brocade began upgrading its storage area network (SAN) connectivity products to 8 Gbit in January, starting with its director switches and DCX Backbone device. It added 8 Gbit connectivity to module switches and host bus adapters (HBA) in June. Its Fibre Channel switch rival Cisco's product line is still at 4 Gbit, with plans for 8 Gbit switches later this year. HP also sells BladeSystem c-Class servers with Cisco's MDS 9124e 4 Gbit fabric switches.

"This rounds out Brocade's 8 Gbit story," said analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group. "Without 8 Gbit storage systems shipping [except for EMC Clariion CX4], 8 Gbit is about host aggregation. That makes blade servers one of the sweet spots for 8 Gbit. It's not always about bandwidth. It's also about latency and the number of I/Os and aggregation," he said.

Matta said server virtualization is driving rapid adoption of blade servers with embedded SAN switches. "Even with only three or four virtual servers on physical machines, the I/O requirement really gets driven up," he said.

In the company's quarterly earnings conference call last week, Brocade executives said 8 Gbit gear is being used mainly by customers building new data centers and remains a small piece of its overall business. They also identified the embedded blade server switch as a rapidly growing market. Brocade's embedded switch revenue increased 39% from last year compared to the company's 12% overall revenue growth. Brocade did not say how much revenue came from embedded switches, but chief financial officer Richard Deranleau said its growth was "off the charts."

Market research firms and financial analysts also identify blade servers as an area of significant growth over the next few years.

"Although blade switches generate less money compared to directors or standalone switches for Brocade, the growth rate of blade switches is probably highest," said analyst Kaushik Roy, Pacific Growth Equities. "And HP is No. 1 in blades, so this is important for Brocade."

As with all connectivity products, customers pay a price premium to upgrade to 8 Gbit. HP sells the 8 Gbit, 24-port Brocade blade switch for $13,499. A 4 Gbit, 24-port version costs $9,500.

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