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Brocade Releases Backbone for Virtualization, Consolidation

Can Brocade virtualize LAN, storage and high-performance computing networks within a single switch?

Storage vendor Brocade has released the DCX Backbone, the first in a series of products that make up its Data Center Fabric, a new architecture announced last October. Most initial users will be in Brocade's traditional SAN market, but the company's ambitions are broader, aiming to unify LAN, storage and high-performance computing cluster traffic into a single network.

The DCX backbone is a core switch containing eight line card slots, with line cards currently available to support Fiber Channel at up to 8 GBps. Brocade plans to add cards for Ethernet at up to 10 Gbps later in 2008. Each switch supports up to 6 Tbps, but two can be linked together for 12Tbps total switching capacity. Brocade expects that data center Ethernet will grow to replace Fiber Channel in the long term, so it has no plans to support InfiniBand unless customers demand it.

The box is targeted at virtual storage for virtual servers, the theory being that workloads are much easier to move around if they are separated from data: A single 8 Gbps Fiber Channel cable can carry multiple virtual SANs, each destined for a separate virtual server. When Ethernet blades are available, the DCX can also be used for broader network consolidation, running I/O to multiple vitrual servers. The advantage here ought to be simplified management, as only one physical network is needed to support both LAN and SAN across several VMs.

This will bring Brocade into closer competition with traditional networking vendors, especially Cisco Systems, with whom it already competes in storage. Brocade hopes that its heritage in SANs will give it an advantage, saying that its plan is to bring the high-performance characteristics of the SAN to other networks.

Several smaller vendors have virtual I/O products, though all approach the problem from a different angle. Juniper-linked startup Xsigo sells a dedicated appliance that virtualizes Ethernet and Fiber Channel over InfiniBand, while 3Leaf offers a system that does the same thing in software. Last year, Cisco acquired an 80% stake in Nuova Systems, another startup aimed at running Fiber Channel over Ethernet.

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