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Gen 6 Brocade SAN switch, QLogic and Broadcom HBAs ship

A new G620 Brocade switch and 32 Gbps host bus adapters from QLogic and Broadcom Emulex signal general availability of Gen 6 Fibre Channel storage networking gear.

In a coordinated 32 Gigabits per second Fibre Channel storage networking launch this week, Brocade released a new SAN switch while QLogic and Broadcom rolled out host bus adapters.

Brocade, QLogic and Broadcom Tuesday released their first Gen 6 (32 Gbps) FC products in stark contrast to the staggered shipments of Gen 5 (16 Gbps) FC equipment that began in 2011.

The new G620 Brocade SAN switch includes 48 SFP+ ports that each support up to 32 Gbps and four "Q-Flex" ports that each provide 128 Gbps (four 32 Gbps connections) of bandwidth. The Q-Flex ports support quad small form-factor pluggable (QSFP) optical transceivers, enabling 4-to-1 cable consolidation, according to Brocade.

QLogic's new 2700 Series Gen 6 FC host bus adapters (HBAs) are available in single-, dual- and quad-port models with native support for 32 Gbps FC. The distinctive single-chip quad-port model targets service providers and other customers requiring high density and low power consumption for large infrastructure build-outs, according to Vikram Karvat, vice president of products, marketing and planning at QLogic.

Broadcom's Emulex LPe32000 line of 32 Gbps HBAs is available in single- and dual-port models. The company also rolled out single- and dual-port Emulex LPe31000 32 Gb-ready HBAs with 16 Gbps optics, which can be upgraded to 32 Gb.

Avago Technologies acquired Emulex Corp. in May 2015. Last month, Avago acquired Broadcom and rebranded the company as Broadcom Ltd. Emulex is an independent division within Broadcom. 

Brocade's chief FC switch rival, Cisco Systems, last month launched its 32 Gbps "ready" MDS 9718 FC director. Adarsh Viswanathan, Cisco's senior manager of product marketing for storage, said at the time that customers would be able to upgrade with software and 32 Gbps line cards once they become available. He predicted high optic costs would make 32 Gbps FC rare in production until prices drop in 2017 or 2018.

Karvat said bringing out the HBAs at the same time as the Brocade SAN switch could prompt faster migration to Gen 6 products.

"It impacted people's ability to migrate to Gen 5," Karvat said of the staggered 16 Gbps launch. "This time, we wanted to make a strong statement about ecosystem support for Gen 6 right at the outset."

Even with 32 Gbps switching and HBAs on the market, customers will have to wait until storage array vendors support the new technology before end-to-end adoption is possible.

New Brocade SAN switch

Brocade touted high density and performance with its new 32 Gbps G620 SAN switch. The company claimed the switch enables "pay as you grow" scalability with 24 to 64 ports in a single rack unit.

Brocade G620 switch
Brocade G620 switch

"For customers that are going to deploy a switch-based fabric as opposed to a director-based fabric, this could be both your core and your edge. Because of the density, it can support lots of servers and lots of storage ports as well," said Scott Shimomura, senior director of product marketing at Brocade.

Truls Myklebust, director of product management at Brocade, expects customers to use 128 Gbps ports initially for Inter-Switch Link (ISL) connections between switches or between a director and a switch. He said storage arrays and large servers could emerge with 128 Gbps ports once adapters with QSFP ports are ready.

The G620 Brocade SAN switch offers network management, monitoring and diagnostics through separately licensed Fabric Vision technology. Brocade's Gen 6 Fabric Vision added new I/O Insight capabilities to enable proactive monitoring of storage device I/O performance through instrumentation built into the switch. The company has also done extensive work to integrate Fabric Vision to the host, according to Shimomura.

List pricing for the new Gen 6 Brocade SAN switch starts at $31,000 for a 24-port base model with 32 Gbps optics. A Fabric Vision license lists at $15,675. The G620 switch is currently available through Brocade and its channel partners. OEM partners will begin offering the new Gen 6 Brocade SAN switch in the second quarter.

New lines of Gbps FC adapters

QLogic said its new QLE2700 Series HBAs enable an 80% increase in I/O operations for typical database block sizes and 24,000 MB per second of throughput. The new adapters support QLogic's StorFusion technology, which aims to streamline provisioning, improve management and orchestration, and deliver quality of service.

The QLE2700 Series is backward compatible two generations to 16 Gbps FC and 8 Gbps FC. List price is $2,650 for the single-port QLE2740; $4,110 for the dual-port WLE2742; and $6,985 for the quad-port QLE2764.

Last October, QLogic introduced a QLE2690 Series of quad-port, single-chip Enhanced Gen 5 (16 Gbps) FC HBAs supplying 16 lanes of PCI Express 3.0, double the eight-lane maximum of the prior model. The optics kit to upgrade the QLE2694U model from Gen 5 to Gen 6 FC is now available. QLogic also released new single- and dual-port options for the 2690 Series.

New Emulex HBAs

Broadcom's new 32 Gbps single- and dual-port Emulex LPe32000 HBAs and single- and dual-port Emulex LPe31000 32 Gb-ready HBAs with 16 Gbps optics use the same application-specific integrated circuit.

List pricing is $1,956 for the 32 Gbps single-port LPe32001 and $2,775 for the dual port LPe32002. The 16 Gbps single-port LPe31001 lists at $1,505, and the dual-port LPe31002 is $2,135. The optic upgrade to 32 Gbps FC is $715 for the single-port model and $1,060 for the dual-port model.

Fibre Channel resurgence?

FC vendors say the performance and low-latency needs of faster flash storage, cloud architectures and applications, such as virtualization, online transaction processing and video production, have been fueling a renewed interest in higher bandwidth FC technology.

Dan Conde, an analyst covering networking technologies at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., said via an email that FC remains strong for block storage "due to decades of knowledge, ruggedness and investment." He said Ethernet-based iSCSI block storage is "good if you are starting from scratch."

Eric Burgener, a research director at IDC Research's storage practice, said growth rates tend to be higher for Internet Protocol-based file and object storage than for block-based storage, and there's a greater need to accommodate higher bandwidth with Ethernet-based storage networking. But he said he can envision a need for higher FC bandwidth during the next 12 to 18 months.

"Flash is the place where it's probably going to be most used," Burgener said, although he added, "Nobody is telling me about 32 Gig Fibre Channel unprompted from the AFA vendor side."

Next Steps

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