Brocade CNAs: Superior Real-World Performance | Easy Migration

Brocade Communications serves the data center which means the company is a high-performance networking company. Brocade is also still the new kid in town when it comes to network adapters. This means they can't be just as good as the competition, they have to be better. So the company set out to prove their Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) are the fastest, but first they had to choose one of two methodologies.

One methodology is to demonstrate best-case performance. But recent performance testing of CNAs triggered a debate that played out in the social media about the significance of 1 million input/output operations per second (IOPS), with critics claiming the ultra-high traffic test beds don't resemble real-world environments. The CNA test results were considered similar to car test results that demonstrate a vehicle can go 200 miles per hour on a perfectly flat straight-away, but are not an accurate indicator of how well the car performs on normal, bumpy, curved roads, and in normal traffic conditions.

Brocade chose a second methodology which involved simulating a real-world environment and on June 29th announced that Brocade 1000-series CNAs lead the industry with the highest IOPS and throughput performance. Brocade also announced their CNAs provided the easiest path for connecting servers to 10GbE LANs and to iSCSI and Fibre Channel SANs.

To generate test results that resemble what you would see in a data center, Brocade had an independent test house take the IOP and throughput numbers from a lab test and related those to Microsoft Exchange - the most popular e-mail application and Oracle Database - the most popular database application. Both are I/O-intensive applications and require an infrastructure capable of supporting high I/O rates in a sustained manner and at block sizes that Microsoft Exchange and Oracle databases best operate within, namely 4 KB and 8 KB.

According to the IT Brand Pulse performance test results, Brocade CNAs generated significantly more IOPS and better overall throughput than the competition across the relevant application block sizes in both FCoE and iSCSI environments. According to the performance test report, Brocade CNAs provided up to 131 percent higher IOPS at 8 KB when compared to the competition.

To test how easy it was to migrate to Brocade CNAs, the company had IT Brand Pulse upgrade servers from Fibre Channel HBAs to 10GbE CNAs. While I don't believe many data centers will rip-and-replace HBAs to get to a converged network, I know of a few customers that have, plus I believe the exercise helped to flush out the difference between managing Fibre Channel and 10GbE SANs from three vendors. This is important because data center managers really like it when a product demonstrates backwards compatibility with products they already know how to install, tune and maintain.

In the migration test report, Brocade scored a perfect 10 on the IT Brand Pulse Migration Ease-o-Meter because the CNA drivers were pre-installed as part of the Fibre Channel HBA installation and because it was the only product with switch and CNA management behind one management console. According to the test report, the testers had no trouble configuring the zoning on the FCoE switch using the WWN information printed on the sticker of the CNA. And when they powered-up the server, the operating system identified and used the new CNA as expected and without incident.

The new kid in town is staying ahead of the competition. The latest test results indicate that Brocade CNAs deliver best-in-class performance with Exchange and Oracle and that migrating to a converged network with Brocade will be easiest, especially for the installed base of Brocade customers. And with Fibre Channel expected to dominate data center storage for many years to come, Brocade converged networking customers will benefit from a common management interface for Fibre Channel and FCoE, across switches and adapters.

The bottom line is Brocade is new to the Fibre Channel HBA market, but the company is entering the new market for converged networking on a more equal basis. I expect Brocade to leverage the ubiquitous presence of their SAN switches to help the OEMs that have qualified Brocade CNAs, including EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and NetApp, to create end-user demand for a CNA that will fold seamlessly into the existing Brocade management framework. And based on a prior announcement, in the near future I'm expecting long-time customer Dell to offer Brocade CNAs as part of end-to-end converged networking solutions.

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posted by: Frank Berry

Frank Berry, InfoStor Guest Blogger
by Frank Berry
InfoStor Guest Blogger

Frank Berry is CEO and senior analyst, unified networking practice, at IT Brand Pulse. He is a 30-year veteran of the IT industry, and has held senior executive positions at storage vendors such as QLogic and Quantum.