By Dave Simpson
Brocade is expected to finalize its acquisition of Rhapsody Networks next month, in an all-stock transaction that was estimated at approximately $175 million (based on Brocade's stock price at the time of the announcement). Brocade gains multi-protocol storage switches with advanced ASIC technology, as well as software and APIs that will enable its OEMs and third parties to write a new class of applications for the devices. The switches are referred to as "fabric application switches," with the emphasis on the word "application."
According to Brocade officials, the goal is to enable storage area network (SAN) administrators to centralize storage management through the integration of fabric applications.
Although Brocade is already sampling the switches to select OEMs, end users may not be able to buy the devices until late 2003—the time that Brocade estimates it will take OEMs to write applications to the new APIs. Those applications are expected to include fabric-based volume management, data management, and data replication, as well as snapshot capability, backup, and security applications. (Brocade plans to integrate the Rhapsody APIs with its Brocade Fabric Access APIs.)
The company is betting that storage network intelligence will migrate from servers and storage subsystems into fabric switches. "Applications such as data replication are already starting to migrate to the fabric," says Steve Daheb, director of product marketing at Brocade.
Brocade's focus is expected to be on its major OEMs—which include EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM—but Rhapsody had already inked deals with software vendors such as Alacritus, FalconStor, StoreAge, and Veritas, which Brocade will continue to support.
Application hosting is enabled via Rhapsody's XPath software architecture and APIs. In essence, the Rhapsody acquisition delivers on Brocade's promise of its "V-Switch" virtualization technology, which will now be rolled into Rhapsody's XPath architecture.
Rhapsody's switches will be sold as a separate product line from Brocade's existing SilkWorm switches but will be fully interoperable. Although Brocade declined to provide specific configuration information, Rhapsody was developing 8-, 16-, 48-, and 160-port switches and directors.
Analysts viewed the acquisition in part as a defensive move against Cisco's imminent encroachment into the SAN switch market via its acquisition of Andiamo Systems (see "Cisco squares off against Brocade, McData," InfoStor, October 2002, p. 1), as well as against Sun's acquisition of Pirus Networks (see "Sun acquires Pirus, furthers N1 strategy," InfoStor, November 2002, p. 8) and traditional competitors such as McData. Brocade may also have to compete with start-ups like Maranti Networks, according to Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, in Beaverton, OR.
Staimer says that, architecturally, the Rhapsody switches are similar to those from Cisco/Andiamo (except that the Rhapsody devices have ASIC processing on every port), but in terms of function and performance they will compete more directly with Sun's Pirus products. He says that the Rhapsody product "wasn't designed to be a SAN switch; it was designed to be a storage processing appliance, or controller." Staimer does not expect the products to compete as switches, in part because of performance reasons and because of an expected high price compared to traditional SAN switches.
Staimer adds that it remains to be seen whether there will be adequate end-user demand for products that move storage intelligence into the fabric, "although that's not to say that it's a bad idea."
Brocade's fabric application switches will support Fibre Channel, as well as IP storage protocols such as iSCSI and FCIP, although Daheb says that specific protocol configurations will be up to OEMs. (For more information about iSCSI, see the Special Report in this issue, p. 30.) Brocade's 12000 series directors will also be able to support iSCSI and FCIP, although Brocade has not announced specific delivery times for IP storage protocols on those platforms.
Separately, Brocade has begun shipments of the company's first 32-port Fibre Channel switch, the 2Gbps SilkWorm 3900. The 1.5U switch features auto-sensing ports, hardware-enforced zoning, hot-swap components, ISL trunking, and path routing. The 3900 uses the same OS as Brocade's SilkWorm 12000.