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Brocade, EMC deliver IP storage switch

Storage array vendor EMC and switching vendor Brocade push a new storage switch dedicated to IP traffic to ensure predictable performance.

Brocade and EMC this week said they will bring out a dedicated IP storage switch, the Connectrix VDX-6740B.

The switch is part of Brocade's Ethernet platform, and will be sold under the Connectrix brand that EMC uses for its switching products.

It will be available for EMC NAS and iSCSI storage platforms, including the VMAX3, VNX, Isilon and XtremIO.

The new switch includes up to 48 10-Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) ports and four 40 GbE ports. The switches are centrally managed through the Connectrix Managed Converged Network Edition SAN management tool.

Brocade and EMC claim a dedicated IP SAN switch is necessary to ensure predictable performance and meet service-level agreements for demanding workloads such as video, big data analytics, and backup/restore.

Jason Nolet, Brocade's vice president of switching, routing and analytics, said the vendor will add Fibre Channel (FC) and FC over Ethernet (FCoE) support this year.

The VDX-6740B can be ordered in a 24-port or 48-port chassis. On the 24-port box, 10 GbE ports are activated in increments of eight port licenses and 40 GbE ports in two-port increments. FCoE licenses will eventually be available. The larger chassis is available with all ports activated and an FCoE license included. The vendors have not made list price available.

Is an IP storage switch necessary?

Brocade and EMC hail the VDX-6740B as the first network switch designed for IP storage, but IP storage switches have actually been around for years. What does this switch have that other Ethernet switches lack?

Nolet said the switch has native load balancing and multipathing that are not available in regular Ethernet network switches. "That's important for applications that can be bursty," he said. "We built high performance failover capability into the switch for millisecond reconnection time when links fail."

Doug Fierro, EMC's senior director for Connectrix, said the new IP storage switch will also go through the qualification process that EMC uses for its FC connectivity products.

The vendors also say a dedicated IP storage switch removes storage traffic from the LAN.

Ashish Nadkarni, an IDC storage research director, said the growth of unstructured data makes an IP storage switch worth considering. But he said EMC and Brocade may face a challenge convincing customers to add another separate network to go with their FC SANs and traditional Ethernet networks.

"A dedicated IP storage solution makes sense because of the amount of traffic with unstructured data we're seeing today," he said. "They're taking the FC model of dedicated switches and trying to see if it will stick in the IP world.

"The headwind they face is that the culture now is to use a standard IP network for most of the storage. How receptive are customers going to be to having islands? We've been preaching in this business that islands are bad and silos are bad, and now we have to go back and eat our words and say in certain cases islands are good."

The partnership dynamic may be more interesting than the technology with the new switch. Brocade is looking for a way to jump start its Ethernet business, which has never taken off as expected since it acquired Foundry in 2008. EMC has traditionally been closer to Brocade's chief competitor Cisco, but Cisco has butted heads with EMC-owned VMware in recent years. EMC could be showing Cisco it considers Brocade a viable option for Ethernet as well as FC switching.

The IP switch can also be seen as a fallback position for Brocade against a decline in FC SANs. Brocade remains primarily a FC company and has pushed FC SAN technology more than any other vendor, but FC sales have slowed in recent years.

"It's interesting to hear Brocade going to great lengths talking about an IP storage switch. It could be a hedge against them being seen as a pure FC play in storage," Nadkarni said.

Brocade sells its FC switches through most large storage vendors, but Brocade's Nolet said the new IP switch was developed for EMC. EMC also dual sources most of its Connectrix products, but EMC's Fierro said it the vendor is not looking to add a similar product from any other source.

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