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Brocade shindig sees the fabric king stretching out

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Comment The data centre without walls: that's the vision that's driving Brocade. The Fibre Channel fabric king held a Techday Summit in San Jose on May 2 and 3 and outlined its cloud-optimised thinking around the data centre becoming the network in virtual enterprises.

It's a neat vision but what does it boil down to? Every data centre is becoming a service provider. Applications and data move around the network and users can access them globally, which is great for a network supplier as shipping bits through its switches, routers and adapters is what its kit is there to do. The trick is to do it fast, do it in a way that is (relatively) simple to manage, and to do it inside a readily comprehensible scheme and without going too far down the network stack at every network entry and crossing point.

Brocade is pushing the idea of an Ethernet fabric, a flat fast Ethernet somewhat equivalent to Fibre Channel. It has lately had to deal with a new trend, that of customers buying integrated stacks of servers, virtualisation software, storage and networking adapters and edge switches that are available as a single orderable item (SKU) and use both Ethernet and Fibre Channel to get across the network to resources they need and enable end-users or other systems to get to them.

Naturally Brocade, not a large system-level but a best-of-breed Fibre Channel (FC) and Ethernet supplier, is not part of the VCE vBlock integrated bundle or the NetApp/Cisco/VMWare FlexPod bundles, and certainly not the HP Matrix systems. Its stance is that such bundles are less open than they might be. Here's marketing boss John McHugh holding forth on that topic: "[The vertically integrated stack or] cloud in a box. ... Architecturally it is from 30 years ago; it's a mainframe ... But it doesn't give you infrastructure flexibility." What customers need is an open cloud architecture like Brocade's developing CloudPlex architecture.

Virtual Compute Blocks

Against that, Brocade has developed its own Virtual Compute Blocks (VCBs) which are pre-integrated, pre-tested bundles from Brocade and partners such as Dell, EMC, Fujitsu, Hitachi Data Systems, Microsoft and VMware. The Brocade components include the VDX with virtual cluster switching. Customers can use whatever compute platform they wish and whatever storage they want if they so choose, and Brocade's systems partners and integrators will be able to sell the kit and provide unified support.

Brocade can now stand tall alongside Cisco, HP, IBM, EMC, NetApp and Oracle and say it has developed its own integrated stack, an open one. Brocade is playing catch-up for sure, but you can't afford not to have skin in the integrated stack game if you are serious about playing in the cloud computing market: It's table stakes. Brocade is also involved in the OpenStack and OpenFlow initiatives: the company will not be found wanting, or found to be a laggard in the cloud business.

Brocade has also served notice that it plans to aggressively develop its Ethernet kit. There were three new MLXe Series Routers announced, as well as enhanced scalability for the CER 2000 Series Compact Router and the 6910 Ethernet Access Switch. Brocade said a big inhibitor to the spread of 100GbitE was the optic cost. It is working with partners to bring out a more affordable 100GbitE optic for the second half of the year.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet

It announced 16Gbit/s Fibre Channel support and said it was working in the 32Gbit/s FC area as well. With such speed boosts ready now and more coming, why should FC fabric users switch to Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)? They would exchange twin networks and a separation between them for a reliance on Ethernet with a new Data Centre Ethernet layered on top of common-or-garden Ethernet to provide the loss-less and deterministic characteristics needed. The resulting Ethernet environment would be more complex than their existing one and it's not clear – and this is my sense of various discussions – that there is any compelling reason to migrate off physical FC to FCoE now.

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