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Has Brocade Seen Interop Light?

After major customer blowup, Brocade is working with other vendors to advance interoperability

Quel scandale! In the past few months, Fibre Channel switch leader Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) has been quietly conspiring with other vendors to get their gear to talk natively to Brocade's own switches -- a move that would mark a shift in strategy by Brocade toward openness.

Brocade, which has had a reputation for trying to protect its turf by inhibiting interoperability with its Fibre Channel switches, is now cooperatively working behind the scenes with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC), according to several industry sources.

Last week, Byte and Switch reported that QLogic appeared to have reverse-engineered Brocade's native-mode operation (see QLogic Learns Brocade Lingo). In fact, say industry sources familiar with both companies, this is the result of joint development work by Brocade and QLogic.

The Brocade/QLogic interoperability project started about three months ago, when a major New York financial institution that is an IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) customer was attempting to connect an IBM BladeCenter blade server system to its existing Brocade SAN. QLogic's Fibre Channel switch silicon is embedded onto a blade on the BladeCenter (see QLogic FC Ships in IBM Blades).

The problem is that, ordinarily, certain advanced Brocade features become disabled when Brocade switches are connected to third-party switches in "interop mode" using FC-SW-2, the industry standard for Fibre Channel. One of the features lost when the QLogic-enabled BladeCenter was plugged into Brocade's SAN was hardware-enforced World Wide Name (WWN) zoning, a security feature that isolates zone configurations from physical changes.

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