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Brocade rolls out FCoE switch, adapters

After taking a conservative approach to FCoE, Brocade gets into the game with its long-anticipated switch and adapters for converged networks.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. today made its move into the converged networking space by launching its first Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) switch and converged network adapters (CNAs) at Storage Networking World in Orlando, Fla.

The Brocade 8000 is a top-of-rack FCoE switch with eight 8 Gbps FC and 24 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) ports, while the Brocade 1010/1020 CNAs are single- and dual-port adapters. Brocade claims the adapters are capable of 500,000 IOPS, but that remains to be seen in production. Brocade's Data Center Fabric Manager (DCFM) software, which is used to manage its FC switches, will support the FCoE devices.

FCoE lets data centers run Fibre Channel storage and Ethernet traffic over one network. FCoE devices will replace FC host bus adapters (HBAs) and Ethernet network interface cards (NICs), and eliminate the need for separate cabling for FC and Ethernet connectivity. But standards aren't yet set for FCoE or the enhanced Ethernet that will be required to support storage traffic, and no native FCoE storage arrays are on the market yet.

Brocade executives pledged their support for FCoE when the protocol was first disclosed in 2007, but the FC switch market leader has been slow to launch FCoE products. While its switch rival Cisco Systems Inc. has aggressively pushed FCoE over the past year or so, Brocade has concentrated on upgrading its FC switches and HBAs to 8 Gbps. It also acquired Ethernet switch vendor Foundry Networks Inc. for $2.6 billion in December 2008.

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"Our strategy is to offer predominantly Fibre Channel networking, but we will continue to invest in each independent network," said Marty Lans, Brocade's senior director of data center marketing. "We're committed to 16 gig Fibre Channel. On the IP side of the network, we have 10 gig Ethernet today, our products are investment-protected for 40 gig, and we'll be at 100 gig."

Brocade's Fibre Channel over Ethernet devices will compete with Cisco's Nexus FCoE switches and CNAs from QLogic Corp. and Emulex Corp. Brocade, Emulex and QLogic all claim they'll have OEM certification for their single-ASIC CNAs this year, but no storage or server vendors have announced qualifications yet. Brocade is the first vendor with FCoE switches and CNAs.

No rush for FCoE adoption

Brocade's Lans said he expects the FCoE switch and CNAs to become available within "a couple of months." He also predicts a slow move to FCoE in the data center.

"Data center networks move slowly, they're a rather conservative group," Lans said. "We want to allow customers to move on their timeframe. There certainly will be tire kickers this year, but it's early in the FCoE hype curve. We're bullish on the technology, but there are factors that will slow adoption down."

Those factors include the overall economy, especially in the financial sector that often leads the way with new data center technology. Lans said internal politics will also play a role in an organization's adoption of FCoE, which will require cooperation among storage, networking and server management teams.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president at Boston-based Yankee Group Research Inc., said Brocade and Cisco clearly have different approaches to FCoE and converged networks.

"Brocade thinks Fibre Channel first, then they're bringing out FCoE solutions to complement that," he said. "Cisco seems to be FCoE first. They're trying to move the industry away from Fibre Channel into Ethernet. Brocade's approach has been more conservative on FCoE. You could argue they were behind, but we don't see a lot of demand yet."

Kerravala agrees with Brocade's assessment of when FCoE will be implemented.

"There's a lot of interest now. People are asking about it, but it's not the right time to start something new," he said. "It's at least three years away from any kind of wide-scale adoption, maybe five years away from being even one quarter of the market. It's hard to convince storage customers to do a rip and replace."

Brocade closes in on IBM Ethernet deal

Despite its Fibre Channel legacy, Brocade is charging ahead on Ethernet after acquiring Foundry Networks. Industry sources say IBM Corp. will strike an OEM deal with Brocade to sell Foundry's Ethernet switches as well as the Ethernet switches it already sells from Cisco.

According to Kaushik Roy, a research analyst at Los Angeles-based Wedbush Morgan Securities, IBM will offer both Foundry and Cisco Ethernet switches with its servers. Roy said he expects IBM to make the OEM relationship public near the end of the month.

Roy said the IBM deal will help Brocade more than it hurts Cisco, and is clearly in retaliation for Cisco's decision to encroach on Big Blue's server space. "IBM sells more than $1 billion of Cisco switches a year," Roy said. "Even if it sells $50 million of Foundry, that won't be a big deal for Cisco, but will really move the needle for Brocade."

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