Brocade data center switches take on Cisco, Juniper

Brocade this week will introduce switches that will let users build a flat, multipath network for virtualized data center environments.

Brocade this week will introduce switches that will let users build a flat, multipath network for virtualized data center environments.

Paving the way for the flat network

As promised, the company will introduce the Brocade VDX 6720 Data Center Switches -- a line of 10 Gigabit Ethernet devices intended to eliminate the need for Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), and collapse the access and aggregation networking layers to create a flat data center environment.

All major data center networking vendors are working toward this end with varying levels of support for standards – such as the IEEE's Data Center Bridging and Shortest Path Bridging, and the IETF's TRILL -- to achieve these topologies, mixed with proprietary techniques and low latency, wire-speed switches.

This rearchitecting of data center networking provides virtual machines (VM) greater mobility, increases network utilization, creates more resilient networks and simplifies the management of data center networks, Brocade says. According to IDC, more than half of all IT workloads will run on VMs by the end of this year, with that number climbing to beyond 70 per cent by the end of 2013.

With the VDX switches, which are based on the Virtual Clustering Switching technique Brocade introduced last June, the company is looking to bring the highly resilient aspects of Fibre Channel storage networking to Ethernet switching. Brocade is the marker leader in Fibre Channel SANs with 65 per cent to 70 per cent market share.

"They're proposing their own fabric strategy from a position of strength," says Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "Building a network fabric is not dissimilar from building a storage fabric. And this is the first proof point that the Foundry merger did make some sense."

Brocade bought Ethernet switch player Foundry Networks in 2008 for almost $3 billion. The company has seen inconsistent results in its Ethernet sale performance ever since.

Perhaps the VDX line will introduce some elusive consistency. The switches are available in one- or two-rack-unit form factors and scale from 16 to 60 ports. They feature the ability to start with 16 ports on the 1RU switch and buy an additional license for another eight ports; or 40 ports on the 2RU switch and buy 10 port licenses for an additional 50 to 60 ports.

Analysts say this is a way for customers to buy into the VDX line at lower cost and then upgrade as they need.

All ports on both switches run at wire-speed, Brocade says. Latency is 600 nanoseconds. The switches support the IEEE's Data Center Bridging standards for lossless Ethernet and are capable of running various types of data and storage traffic – including IP, iSCSI, CIFS, NFS and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), Brocade says.

The VCS technology inherent in the switches allow users to build multipathing Ethernet fabrics based in the IETF's Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) specification. TRILL, and the IEEE's Shortest Path Bridging specification, are designed to replace Spanning Tree by enabling multiple active paths in the network instead of a single active path backed-up by multiple non-active links. This lets the network reconverge more quickly in the event of a path outage or a reconfiguration, industry players say.

VCS also provides a distributed control plane so that every switch is aware of the entire network topology, Brocade says. This allows network and configuration policies and profiles for a particular VM to migrate with the VM. Cisco also supports this capability in its Unified Computing System blade server/switch/virtualization/storage access system. The VDX 6720 switching cluster initially supports VM mobility among 600 10G ports and 8,000 VMs.

VCS also treats the cluster as a single logical switch which helps reduce the number of elements being managed in the fabric. Juniper also supports virtual clustering in its EX switches and is utilizing this as the foundation of its upcoming Project Stratus data center/cloud fabric.

Brocade's challenge will be to demonstrate the advantages of its VDX switches, VCS technology and overall Brocade One data center/cloud architecture – which was also introduced last June – over incumbent Cisco and upcoming player Juniper.

"How do you quantify the benefit of your fabric over others?" Kerravala asks. "How do you demonstrate its advantage and make it marketable and sellable?"

Brocade also restructured its service and support offerings to help ease customers into a VDX implementation. Brocade Premier Support and the new Brocade Premier-Plus Support plans include priority access to technical support to reduce time to resolution; and the company now provides annual SAN and network "health checks" to help optimize IT resource utilization.

The Brocade VDX 6720 Data Center switches are available now, starting at $10,700.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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