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Brocade's Backbone wants control of the data center

Big switch has got some nerve

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Brocade has released the first product in its new data center platform aimed at extending the company's reach beyond the traditional SAN (storage area network) market.

Back in October, Brocade announced it was working on a loosely, and we mean that in the loosest sense of the word, defined new hardware architecture called DFC (Data Center Fabric). At least, we think they did.

Like archaeologists pondering the ancient ruins of long-lost civilizations, we could make out certain familiar characters in the old jargon saturated release. Brocade was trying to tell us something. But what? There were certainly words — yes, and fragments of text that made sense. Something was being "optimized." And "consolidated." Leveraged for "expanding workloads" and "relentless growth." A 700-word monster on a plan to make policy-driven network gear that handles lots of protocols like Fibre Channel over Ethernet and specializes in server virtualization.

It could be nothing less than a publicist's answering bugle to Cisco's equally nebulous virtualization-heavy roadmap, dubbed "Data Center 3.0." Both pitches revolve around a platform that can manage the entire data center, rather than just Fibre Channel switches.

Fast forward to the present, and Brocade is ready to show the cornerstone of its new hardware: the DCX Backbone.

What we have here is a very big switch. Its largest configuration can sustain full transfer rates at 8Gb/s on 448 ports (384 Fibre Channel ports and 64 inter-chassis links). Two units can also be linked for a total of 896 ports.

In addition to FC, the DCX supports most other protocols you could throw at it, such as Gigabit Ethernet, iSCSI, FICON and Fibre Channel over IP. The exception is InfiniBand, which Brocade says won't be supported unless customers demand it. Later this year, Brocade says it will ship a 10Gb/s card for switch as well.

The DCX joins Brocade's 48000 director switches in the company's 8Gb/s Fibre Channel speed merchandise, which received a blade speed upgrade in October. Cisco doesn't currently offer 8Gb/s FC speeds, but plans to have gear ready by mid-2008.

Brocade says the box includes networking services features such as dynamic shared resource allocation, congestion management, and application-specific performance reporting. Applications from Brocade's partners will be able to run on the DCX, including Fujitsu's Eternus as well as EMC's RecoverPoint and Invista. Back in October, Brocade said the DCX will be followed by additional products to link servers to DFC gear through management in virtualized environments.

The DCX systems is currently available through Sun Microsystems and directly from Brocade. Other storage vendors such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard and IBM are expected to join the party in the coming months.

Brocade isn't talking price, but Sun said the DCX will start around $180,000. Like we said before, it's a big switch. ®

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