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Brocade has extended its backbone data centre switching range and introduced a virtual SAN facility as its HBAs get more widely adopted.

The first DCX backbone switch was introduced a year ago and offered 384 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports and a migration path to FCoE, Fibre Channel over Ethernet. Since then Cisco has emphasised its own Nexus data centre switching range and Brocade has bought Ethernet vendor Foundry to strengthen its Ethernet-based data centre networking product offering.

The new DCX-4S is a 192-port version of the DCX, and can be used either as a central data centre switch for mid-sized enterprises or as an edge switch for enterprises with an existing DCX. The DCX-4S can be used to consolidate smaller switches and to extend the DCX environment to cover more networking ground. Existing Brocade swtches and 48000 directors can be moved outwards towards the edge of the fabric.

The new switch has four inter-switch link ports to connect two DCX-4S together or to link one to a DCX.

A new version of Brocade's switch software, Fabric O/S v 6.2, provides a virtual SAN, sorry Fabric capability - Cisco uses the term virtual SAN - in which the available SAN bandwidth can be sub-divided into logically-separate virtual fabrics dedicated to particular applications or groups of servers so that they have unique levels of service quality. These are maintained with the help of Brocade's HBA range to provide the end-to-end aspect of this.

The DCX-4S is described by Brocade as an application engine with applications such as EMC RecoverPoint running on inserted blades. But we should not get excited about this application blade turning the DCX-4S into a server host. Marty Lans, a senior marketing director for Brocade, said: "It's not a server."

If VMware virtual machines use the virtual fabric feature then, if they move, their SAN quality of service (QOS) can move with them; networking QOS levels being part of a VM's metadata. The HBAs can also be used with stateless servers to fetch an operating system personality at boot time from the SAN as set up via Brocade's management console.

Brocade is aiming to use its own HBA range to help this happen, saying that commodity HBAs won't work so well with its switches. This strategy, if supported by customers, will likely reduce competition in the HBA market with likely adverse effects on prices and other features.

OEM support of Brocade's HBA range is gradually extending with IBM now making them available as an option for its System x Servers. Existing OEMs for these HBAs include EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and Xiotech. HP, Dell and Sun are missing from this list. The hint is that Brocade is talking to them. HP will announce compatibility between the DCX-4S encryption capability and its own SKM (Secure Key Manager) encryption key management product.

LSI Engenio has qualified the Brocade HBAs but is not selling them.

Incidentally, Brocade's worldwide marketing VP, Tom Buiocchi, has abruptly left to pursue, as the formula goes, new challenges. His departure comes after Brocade made a couple of external appointments following the closure of the Foundry acquisition last month. Marc Randall was appointed as the SVP of Products and Offerings and Dave Stevens became Brocade's Chief Technology Officer.

What the DCX-4S announcement means is that Brocade is stepping out on its journey towards an Ethernet data centre backbone switching product set supporting FCoE and Fibre Channel, and providing virtual storage networking fabrics and, with Foundry's help, general networking bandwidth and service levels. Goliath Cisco is facing a David Brocade that's grown in stature and got bigger products in its sling. ®

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