Brocade unveils strategy for future fabrics

By Kevin Komiega

—Prompted by the need for bigger and faster fabrics, Brocade has announced its vision for the future and revealed a new strategy and products designed to serve as the backbone for tomorrow's data centers. Brocade's Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture is a so-called framework for cutting costs and increasing speed and flexibility while arming customers with the means to manage growing volumes of data.

The DCF architecture is said to combine storage networking and server-to-server clustering into a single, converged data-center infrastructure that adapts to the dynamics of virtualized servers and storage.

At its core, the DCF is a policy-based, application-driven architecture that will leverage existing data-center applications, servers, networks, and storage devices. According to Tom Buiocchi, vice president of marketing for Brocade, one of the most important pieces of the DCF puzzle is investment protection.

"The Data Center Fabric framework is based on getting the most out of the infrastructure without causing disruptions to operations. The demands on data-center networks and SAN fabrics are becoming enormous, and users don't want to throw away what they already have," says Buiocchi.

Buiocchi says Brocade is not advocating the philosophy that all data-center intelligence must reside in the network. "Our approach is application- and data-centric and will use a variety of technologies and intelligence to help applications get the resources they need. It's not about building a giant network that consumes all of the intelligence in the data center," he says.

To that end, Buiocchi says all of Brocade's new products will interoperate with existing Brocade and McData products as well as in mixed environments.

"We're enabling the infrastructure to be tweaked based on policies, and we're offering those policies to our partners to manage. We're not going to build giant comprehensive management frameworks. We'll rely on our partners for that," says Buiocchi.

Bob Laliberte, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, notes that data-center fabrics of the future will be an amalgam of different technologies. "InfiniBand, mainframes, Fibre Channel, file area networks [FANs]—all of these fabrics will be connected and, as virtualization takes hold in servers and storage, the connectivity layer is going to become more important. What Brocade is saying to they customers is that they will help protect their investments," says Laliberte.

Brocade plans to deliver a series of new technologies and products over the next six months in support of the DCF. Some of those new products include the following:

  • The SilkWorm 48000 director, which was announced last month and has been upgraded with a range of performance and interoperability enhancements, including 8Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity and full interoperability with legacy McData products;
  • The DCX Backbone, a new class of product designed to accommodate large-scale server virtualization, service delivery, adaptive networking, and multiple network protocols, including Fibre Channel, Ethernet, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and iSCSI. The DCX Backbone will form the core of the Brocade DCF architecture and will be available "in the first half of 2008;"
  • A range of server connectivity products designed to link servers to the DCF in virtualized environments. Buiocchi says these products will reflect the evolution of host bus adapters (HBAs) to provide higher performance and security in next-generation intelligent server adapters (ISAs);
  • A series of future enhancements to its FAN portfolio, with more automated, policy-based tools for managing files; and
  • New management software to support the DCF.

Brocade also announced that it has formed partnerships throughout the industry to address the need for security and encryption in the DCF. The company plans to provide more details about these partnerships in the coming months.

John Webster, principal IT advisor at the Illuminata research and consulting firm, says Brocade's DCF architecture not only addresses the changing needs of IT organizations, but strengthens its partner relationships as well.

"Brocade has proposed this architecture in a way that is non-threatening to two very important constituencies. The first is data-center operations people who are interested in application availability and disaster recovery, and the second is their partners," says Webster. "Brocade's approach is to make sure their partners know that they are not going to [take over] all of the data-center operations' automation and management."

This article was originally published on November 12, 2007