Brocade delivers on data-center strategy

By Kevin Komiega

—Brocade offered a sneak peek at its strategy for the future late last year and is now delivering products designed to be the foundation for a new generation of data centers. Today, the company announced the availability of the DCX Backbone, which is packed with features for the largest IT environments. For example, it supports 384 8Gbps Fibre Channel ports, while the two-chassis version has 896 ports with 12Tbps of I/O bandwidth.

Aside from sheer horsepower and scale, multi-protocol connectivity is a key feature of the new product. All speeds of Fibre Channel and FICON are supported, as is Gigabit Ethernet for Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) and iSCSI connectivity. The same device also supports 10GbE, which will be critical as emerging protocols such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) make their way into the market.

The DCX Backbone sits at the center of Brocade's Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture (see diagram at the bottom of this article). The DCF combines storage networking and server-to-server clustering in a single, converged infrastructure that adapts to the dynamics of virtualized servers and storage.

The DCF is a policy-based, application-driven architecture that will leverage existing data-center applications, servers, networks, and storage devices. The DCX Backbone joins the SilkWorm 48000 director as the first hardware products under the DCF umbrella. Brocade has promised delivery of several additional products in support of the DCF architecture this year, including a range of host bus adapter (HBA) and server connectivity products designed to link servers to the DCF in virtualized environments; a series of enhancements to its file area network (FAN) portfolio, with more-automated, policy-based tools for managing files; and new management software to support the DCF.

The DCX Backbone currently supports enterprise-class applications from Brocade, EMC, and Fujitsu—specifically, Brocade's Data Migration Manager (DMM), EMC's Invista, and Fujitsu's Eternus for storage virtualization, and EMC's RecoverPoint for continuous replication. The DCX Backbone also supports Brocade's EFCM, Fabric Manager and SAN Health management tools, and includes SMI-S interfaces for third-party applications.

"The DCX Backbone can help companies evolve their data centers while enabling new levels of service, higher performance, and more scalability with new types of protocol connectivity," says Mario Blandini, director of product marketing at Brocade.

Blandini says the DCX Backbone is targeted at companies building new data-center fabrics, expanding existing fabrics, or deploying virtual-server environments.

"As VMware environments grow and get more complex they will call for different kinds of management platforms," says John Webster, principal IT advisor at the Illuminata consulting firm. "DCF creates an interesting place for that level of management. It's going to require data-center operations people to potentially rethink their organizational structures and bring server, network, and storage people into much closer proximity than they have been in the past."

Webster adds that 10Gbps Ethernet's steady march toward affordability and the continued consolidation of networks, servers, and storage will all cause IT managers to look for more-advanced networking platforms as they rethink how they design data centers. He also believes the combination of multi-protocol support and advanced software features trump the hardware capabilities as the strength of the system.

IDC's vice president of storage systems research, Richard Villars, says the capabilities of the DCX Backbone may allow Brocade to extend its reach beyond the world of storage as bleeding-edge companies design and build new data centers. He says companies such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and a host of other so-called Web 2.0 businesses are pushing the envelope and challenging the traditional data-center model.

"These companies are building radically different data-center environments built on unified networks to support things like Software as a Service [SaaS]," says Villars. "At the same time, regular businesses are facing new requirements. The DCX Backbone is a foundation for companies that want to start unifying their environments."

Pricing for the DCX Backbone will be determined by Brocade's OEMs. Sun is expected to be the first OEM partner to announce its plans for the DCX, while the rest of Brocade's partners are expected to offer the product some time in the first half of the year.

This article was originally published on January 22, 2008