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Brocade hits the road with its future technology roadmap

Brocade hits the road with its future technology roadmap

Brocade announced its future technology roadmap and the general availability to OEMs of its 64- and 128-port 2 Gbit/sec Silkworm 12000.

Announcement highlights

Brocade stated the goal of its roadmap is to "support the always on information requirements of business" by "simplifying the delivery of storage virtualization, delivering next-generation SAN security and accelerating the deployment of enterprise Storage Area Networks (SANs)." The roadmap is based on using "an open, protocol-agnostic platform that is extensible to 10 Gbit/sec Fibre Channel speeds." The company outlined five areas of enhancements designed to deliver on this goal:

  1. Switch-based storage virtualization: Extend their API and introduce a new type of switch, coined a "V-switch," (or in the case of the Silkworm 12000, possibly a virtualization blade) that is optimized for third party storage virtualization applications by such features as wire speed "mapping" capabilities to map physical LUNs to logical LUNs. The V-switch would support both symmetric and asymmetric virtualization solutions(1) and would be compatible with existing Brocade SANs, "allowing customers to gain full virtualization benefits by adding a virtualization-enabled switch to an existing SAN fabric." Brocade does not plan to develop their own virtualization solution, nor are they planning to run third party virtualization applications in the V-switch or -blade.
  2. Inter-fabric switching: Support the concept of "SAN subnets" so that customers can create and manage heterogeneous SAN islands (based on customer-driven criteria such as type of organization or application) that can be interconnected to share expensive resources such as tape libraries and viewed as an entire SAN infrastructure in an integrated way. Initially, the subnets would be connected via Fibre Channel although other connection technologies may be supported in the future.
  3. Next-generation SAN security: Integrate Brocade's security features with other system-wide security applications using FCAP or SLAP(2) protocols to allow SAN security to be integrated into larger network and/or system security policies. Brocade is investigating integrating their fabric security features with other security protocols and tools such as RADIUS, SSL and SSH. In addition, Brocade will introduce the capability for customers to be their own "root" certification authority for digital certificates for the SAN environment.
  4. ASIC-based Intelligent Quality of Service (QoS) features: Offer additional performance monitoring, prioritization commands and other functions that improve quality of service.
  5. Open API extensions: Provide an accessible database/repository of fabric information through standards-based management frameworks.

The company shared an approximate timeframe for the roll out of these enhancements:

H2 2002: 32-port midrange switch
H1 2003: Expanded API and inter-fabric switching
H2 2003: V-Switch, intelligent QoS, next-generation SAN security
2004: Protocol-independent switch, 10 Gbit/sec hardware, more intelligent QoS enhancements

Evaluator Group comments:

Once again, Brocade has taken the lead in defining an overall vision and value-added enhancements that address critical issues in SAN deployment and management. Storage virtualization(3) is an important topic because it is the main element that will allow administrators to manage significantly more storage(4) thereby driving down administrative costs, accommodating the explosion in storage demand, improving storage resource utilization and easing the problem of shortage of skilled IT workers. A number of vendors have introduced solutions that are being deployed today and the Evaluator Group believes in the next two years, the deployment of virtualization applications will be where Fibre Channel SANs are today.

Brocade's plan to introduce a "V-switch" next year to optimize these applications is timely and will undoubtedly help mitigate one of the most critical issues in today's IT environment. We believe Brocade's strategy to optimize existing solutions rather than developing its own virtualization solution is appropriate and will be welcomed by its OEM customers.

SAN subnets takes the concept of zoning one step further by allowing more autonomous management of individual SANs. Whether this approach is advantageous will depend on the customer's domain. On one hand, this would allow each SAN island to tune performance, capacity utilization, and security to individual requirements while taking advantage of shared expensive company resources like tape libraries. However, these advantages may be outweighed by the cost impact of managing multiple SAN islands.

SAN security is another important topic these days. The security requirements for servers and system networks are vastly different from those required to protect a company's data. Oftentimes, IT organizations use both network and storage administrators to manage their IT environments because of the complexity and divergent requirements of each domain. With the advent of SANs and the desire to create large networked infrastructures, the opportunity for a network security breach causing a catastrophic storage security breach increases. Brocade's plan to develop "links" between the two security systems suggests that common storage security mistakes may be averted and that standardized policies can be implemented across networks.

Virtually all switch vendors are working on improving QoS features. Brocade's Frame Filtering technology gives users a greater level of insight into performance bottlenecks and other parameters that affect service delivery. Brocade's continued strong commitment to API enhancements is reflective of the large volume of OEM business it does, and its strategy to implement standards-based solutions where appropriate is in keeping with OEM requirements.

The requirement for number of ports per switch appears to be increasing rather rapidly. We believe that 32-port switches may soon replace 16-port switches as the unit volume shipment leader, and that 16-port switches will soon be used in "SAN-in-a-box" solutions.

1. An asymmetric virtualization implementation separates user data and metadata I/O requests, where the metadata is either reprocessed through a redirector, driver, or HBA. A symmetric implementation channels all I/O requests through a storage manager, similar to a high-function cache disk controller.

2. Both SLAP (Switch Link Authentication Protocol) and FCAP (Fibre Channel Authentication Protocol, a superset of SLAP) were submitted to the T11 ANSI standards committee in late 2001.

3. For more information, see ES/OL's white paper on storage virtualization.

4. Estimates range from 4 to 40 times more storage, depending on the vendor.

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