Brocade today announced the next step in its Data Center Fabric strategy, the VDX 8770 switch and software. Brocade has finally delivered a serious contender for your Ethernet fabric--the VDX 8770 offers a big chassis with new silicon, high performance and some unique networking features. While it looks good in PowerPoint, however, the proof will be in the delivery.
Speeds and feeds: The VDX 8770 is big, fast and fabric. Available in a four- or eight-slot chassis switch that has a backplane, it's designed to handle at least 4 Tbs per slot. At that rate, you can have 40 x 100 GbE ports in a single slot, giving you a good future.
The first three modules available will be 48 x 1GbE, 48 x 10GbE and 12 x 40 GbE, all running at line rate and non-blocking. Few vendors are even shipping 48 ports of 10GbE in a single line card, and the 12-port, 40GbE module is well ahead of competitors. Those 40 GbE ports are needed for a high-density L2 ECMP fabric backbone to support up to a total of 8,000 ports.
Data Center Fabric capability: No switch lives alone in the modern data center, regardless of how fast or how large it may be. The future of data center networking is determined by hyperconnectivity. Brocade fabric capabilities now span the entire data center, to a maximum of 24 switches, by building coherent Ethernet fabric to compete with Juniper and Cisco.
Brocade manufactures the silicon in the VDX 8770. It has unique features that are worth reviewing closely, including silicon capacity for 384,000 MAC entries suitable for scaling large numbers of virtual machines using L2 fabric network designs. This will be important for companies using current-generation virtualization designs.
Another striking claim is "port to port" latency 3.5µs anywhere in the chassis. Compare this with Arista, which is the favored vendor for low-latency networks and has made solid advances into the HFT financial markets because of its 4.5 µsec, port-to-port latency on its 7500 chassis. Cisco Nexus latency can be as low 6µsec under limited conditions.
Multi-Gateway L3 Forwarding: Brocade has previously announced its VCS features to provide Layer 2 ECMP features based on TRILL with proprietary enhancements. Less well known is Brocade's trunking feature, which allows for L1 Ethernet channel bonding because of its technical requirements.
The next version of software will enable a new feature called Multi-Gateway L3 Forwarding (or routing) on every switch. In traditional networks, there's a single active router that handles the L3 forwarding, with a stand-by for resiliency. By comparison, Multi-Gateway L3 Forwarding means that every switch in the fabric can act as the router for any VLAN and will forward packets directly across the network based on IP addressing. By avoiding a central router in the network, Brocade can enable a significant scaling in routing performance because it's distributed throughout the network at ingress to the fabric.
This is a significant advantage when compared with Cisco's FabricPath, which uses GLBP for up to four default gateways and must rely on big routers in the core to perform the L3 forwarding. Juniper QFabric has a capability similar to that of Brocade, and because cloud network designs are moving to implement host-based routing to build only L3 cores, this technology could provide a significant feature advantage for Brocade.
VXLAN support on the roadmap: The tide of VXLAN seems overwhelming, and Brocade has confirmed that the silicon in the switch will get some visibility into VXLAN packets in the future. This is useful for monitoring and QoS, but it seems VXLAN hardware termination isn't a part of the plan, which is somewhat disappointing. It's not clear if the hardware can support VXLAN termination in the future.
Based on the information available, the Brocade VDX is serious commitment to Ethernet switching and continues the trend to scaled-out Ethernet networks. It's a competitor to Juniper QFabric in many ways, offering a data center-sized Ethernet fabric that scales up to 8,000 ports with low latency and very high performance. The limited number of switches could be a feature or limitation, depending on your design.
Compared with Cisco Nexus and Juniper QFabric, the Brocade VDX 8770 is a leader in latency, speed and density. The Multi-Gateway L3 Forwarding will need some closer scrutiny to be sure how it works. As a company, Brocade clearly needs to break out of the rut of selling Fibre Channel to storage administrators and start to compete against Cisco and Juniper. For now, it looks like the company has executed on its potential, and I'll be watching for the final solution when it arrives.