Brocade rolls out 8Gbps HBAs, switches

By Kevin Komiega

—As Brocade builds momentum for its vision of unified networks in the data center, the company continues to roll out real-world hardware to support users suffering the limitations of existing fabrics as they deploy virtual server and storage infrastructures.

Brocade plans to ship in June a trio of new 8Gbps Fibre Channel SAN switches and its first line of homegrown host bus adapters (HBAs) equipped with the same management features as the company's higher-end networking products. The goal is to streamline the end-to-end management of server and storage environments, including data migration and security, by putting the same features in all components of the network—from the core to the edge.

The new 8Gbps Fibre Channel switches range from 8 to 80 ports. The entry-level model 300 scales from 8 to 24 ports, the 5100 from 24 to 48 ports, and the 5300 from 48 to 80 ports.

All of the switches are backward-compatible with Brocade's existing SAN devices, including legacy McData switches. The new fabric switches will be available next month from Brocade, IBM, and Sun, with expected availability from all of Brocade's OEM partners slated for later this year.

Brocade's new line of HBAs—the first of its own design—extends I/O performance at the server to 500,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) per port to accommodate virtual server throughput requirements. The HBAs are also designed to support new quality of service (QoS), data mobility, and data encryption features for secure communications between virtual servers and storage devices. In addition, Brocade has introduced a unified management tool that spans its new switches and HBAs.

Moving into the HBA market is a critical piece of the puzzle for Brocade as it nudges end users down the path toward a unified network architecture. Herman Chao, director of product management with Brocade's server division, says the company's goal is to enter the HBA market and drive innovation beyond simple compatibility and connectivity.

"Maximizing the utilization and management efficiencies of a consolidated pool of virtual server resources requires a lot of enhancements to the fabric itself," says Chao. "Extending those enhancements into host connectivity is a fundamental change that needs to occur in the data center to enable storage and server consolidation and the logical consolidation of applications."

Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) analyst Bob Laliberte says the key factor in Brocade's move into the host connectivity market is not just that they have HBAs; rather, the value is in the overall product set. "They're creating a solution by adding intelligence to the HBAs that works in concert with their switches, directors, and backbone class products," he says. "A lot of users want a 'virtualization-aware' network, so Brocade's adaptive networking services will be attractive to customers supporting virtual server environments."

A recent ESG Research survey of 706 enterprise end users,"The Impact of Server Virtualization on Storage," reveals that companies currently using server virtualization expect to double the number of physical servers equipped for virtualization and increase the number of virtual servers running on them by more than 150%.

The projected growth of virtual servers will require higher performance networks with the ability to assign network services such as bandwidth or priority to each guest on a virtual server.

"The use of server virtualization for optimized asset utilization and cost-effective disaster recovery is driving the need for more dynamic movement of data and applications across different physical server environments," says ESG's Laliberte. "QoS and flow control characteristics associated with these mobile applications need to follow the application as it moves among systems."

Mario Blandini, director of product marketing for Brocade's data-center infrastructure division, says the new switches and HBAs constitute an extension of the company's Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture and strategy for a new generation of unified networks.

At the heart of the DCF is the DCX Backbone, a switch with 384 8Gbps Fibre Channel ports and support for all speeds of Fibre Channel and FICON as well as Gigabit Ethernet for Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) and iSCSI. The device also supports 10GbE, which will be critical when emerging protocols such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) make their way into the market. Brocade has included similar features and functions in its 48000 director-class switch.

The DCX Backbone sits at the center of Brocade's Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture. 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.

Blandini says the same advanced networking features found in the DCX and 48000 director have been carried through to the new products, making their availability more than just a speed transition to 8Gbps Fibre Channel.

"The new switches and HBAs represent an extension of our adaptive networking capabilities announced with the DCX," says Blandini.

Richard Villars, vice president of storage systems at IDC, says the growing number of users experiencing pain associated with aggressive virtual server deployments should be attracted to next generation networks, and that's where Brocade's unified fabric philosophy will resonate. However, he says, it's still too early to tell whether companies will embrace the concept.

"Brocade is adding functionality and ultimately it comes down to [educating] the people who are implementing virtualization," says Villars. "In the long term, the value of these products for most customers is potentially their manageability, but it will be important for Brocade to take this announcement to the next level by putting together implementations and training."

This article was originally published on May 16, 2008