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Brocade HBAs move into storage shops

Brocade 8 Gbps HBAs are finding a home in companies that already use its Fibre Channel switches, even though major storage vendors EMC, HP and IBM have yet to certify the HBAs with their arrays.

Brocade, the Fibre Channel switch market leader, launched single- and dual-port 8 Gbps host bus adapters earlier this year to challenge HBA stalwarts QLogic and Emulex.

Because most HBAs are sold by storage and server vendors, Brocade will need its large storage partners to certify and sell its HBAs if the company is to attain meaningful sales. But for now, Brocade is selling its HBAs directly, and through smaller storage vendors and retail channels, such as CDW.

Xiotech recently qualified Brocade's two 8 Gbps HBAs -- the 815 and 825 Fibre Channel devices -- and LSI has added the Brocade HBAs to its compatibility matrix after completing lab testing. Hitachi Data Systems is expected to qualify Brocade HBAs by early December, but Brocade's largest storage partners – EMC, Hewlett-Packard and IBM – aren't' expected to complete qualifications before next year.

"We'll be waiting to see when the major vendors come out with their certifications," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte. "Those tend to be the biggest barriers to entry in the HBA market, so [Brocade has] to make sure they get that."

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HBAs explained
Laliberte said that Brocade needs to differentiate its HBAs to compete with QLogic and Emulex, and there are two ways of doing that: the end-to-end aspect of managing the switch and HBA together, and better integration with Windows and VMware virtualization.

Seeking standardization for switches, HBAs

Networking and business continuity service provider Toss Corp. has 20 to 30 Brocade two-port HBAs, which it purchased through Hitachi's services group. Toss CEO Greg Hanna said his company is upgrading its four data centers in the U.S. to 8 Gbps Fibre Channel.

Toss also sells Brocade HBAs and recommends them to customers. Hanna still has QLogic HBAs, but he is looking to standardize on Brocade for switches and HBAs. "Having one vendor makes a big difference to us," he said. "It's nice to standardize so we don't have to deal with Emulex, QLogic, Brocade and LSI [which used to sell HBAs] in the data center."

Hanna's criteria for HBAs are compatibility with applications and operating systems, ease of installation and upgrades, and management. Brocade provides "quality of service at card-level management all the way through to the switch", he said.

Hanna still can't use Brocade HBAs in target mode because of driver problems, but he expects to have that capability soon. "We do a lot of OEM appliances for storage using [FalconStor] IPStor, usually in HP or IBM servers. We're still using 4-Gig QLogic HBAs in them, but we'd love to have 8-Gig Brocade HBAs for that."

Looking for end-to-end SAN visibility

A systems architect at a company that sells software for healthcare organizations says his shop is standardizing on Brocade HBAs to go with Brocade switches. The architect, whose says company policity prohibits him from using his name or the company's name, says he acquired HBAs directly from Brocade and put them into production about three months ago. The company is an exclusive Brocade Fibre Channel switch shop with more than 1 PB of EMC Symmetrix and Clariion storage, and another 500 TB on HP XP arrays spread across three data centers in Kansas City, Mo.

The systems architect says he has used a mix of QLogic and Emulex HBAs, but said he will install Brocade HBAs on all new servers. "We're constantly retiring servers, and as we buy new servers, which we do all the time, we'll buy Brocade HBAs," he said.

End-to-end visibility sold him on Brocade. "Because it's a Brocade ASIC and connected to a Brocade switch, we can see farther into our environment," he said. "We can see into the server and find out what's going on in the server because of the common ASIC. We manage the HBAs just like we manage a switch and we have all the tools for that. We used to have to go into the host to go in the HBA. Now we go in from the switch to the HBA, and we can upgrade all the microcode and firmware on the HBA in one shot as opposed to going to each server and upgrading its microcode."

Storage vendors complete HBA qualifications

LSI added Brocade HBAs to those from Emulex and QLogic on its compatibility matrix. Xiotech also sells QLogic and Emulex with its storage system, but director of product management Eric Lomascalo said that Brocade's HBA is the first one that Xiotech qualified at 8 Gbps.

Harry Petty, Brocade director of marketing for HBA products, said he considered qualifications "ahead of schedule," and the larger vendors usually take a lot longer to certify products. "This is a first-generation product," he said. "It's amazing that all that testing and interoperability went so smoothly with the vendors who have certified the HBAs."

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