By Dave Simpson
Brocade still has the lion's share of the Fibre Channel fabric switch market, but the company has struggled in the high-end director-class segment against competitors Cisco and McData. However, Brocade's SilkWorm 24000 director may at least level the playing field, although it's not expected to give Brocade any clear-cut competitive advantages, according to analysts.
The key difference between the SilkWorm 24000 and its 12000 predecessor is that the 24000 has 128 2Gbps Fibre Channel ports in a single domain, whereas the 12000's architecture was based on two 64-port domains.
However, 128 ports does not give Brocade the port-count advantage. McData, for example, has 140 non-blocking ports and Cisco has 224 ports (reportedly going to 336 ports this summer).
Analysts say that Brocade's biggest advantage is its huge installed base, market share leadership, and OEM breadth. SilkWorm 24000 OEMs include EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Hewlett-Packard, StorageTek, and Sun.
On the other hand, in addition to port count, analysts say that McData may have an advantage in some environments because it sells heterogeneous SAN management software (SANavigator), and McData may have a price advantage versus Brocade (although comparisons are difficult because pricing is up to the switch vendors' OEMs).
As for Cisco's potential competitive advantages, analysts cite features such as Virtual SAN (VSAN) and inter-VSAN routing; SPAN and RSPAN; QoS; a native IP-Services blade; and imminent support for 10Gbps and Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) blades.
Brocade plans to deliver blades for 4Gbps and 10Gbps Fibre Channel, as well as blades for iSCSI and FCIP, but has not revealed the time frame for delivery of those upgrades. Currently, the SilkWorm 24000 supports 2Gbps Fibre Channel and FICON.
Other features of the SilkWorm 24000 include a common software base with Brocade's full line of switches and directors, and a 50% reduction in power consumption versus the 12000. Existing SilkWorm 12000 customers can field-upgrade to the 24000. (Brocade claims to have installed more than 3,500 SilkWorm 12000 directors.)
Switch blades for IBM
In separate news, Brocade recently announced that it will supply IBM with 16-port Fibre Channel switch modules for Big Blue's eServer BladeCenter servers. A low-end version supports dual-switch fabrics, while an enterprise version allows connection to fabrics with up to 239 switches. Shipments begin later this month.
According to International Data Corp., worldwide shipments of blade servers grew 372% last year, to almost 185,000 units, which represents 3.5% of total server shipments. IDC expects blade servers to account for approximately 25% of total server shipments by 2007.