Brocade Unveils Backbone Switch

DCX, the linchpin in the vendor's fabric strategy, promises much but demands commitment UPDATED 4:30 PM

January 23, 2008

4 Min Read
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Brocade today unveiled the DCX Backbone, the new high-end switch in the vendor's product line, which will become a focal point in Brocade's simmering rivalry with Cisco.

The DCX Backbone is the linchpin in Brocade's Data Center Fabric (DCF) strategy announced in October. DCF unifies networks based on other Brocade switches, incorporates enhanced server virtualization support, offers quality-of-service controls, and is configured to support and manage a range of upcoming storage technologies, including Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

In this first release of DCX, which will be shipped by Brocade and by OEM partner Sun Microsystems starting immediately (followed by other partners later this half), the platform runs 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel and Ficon along with 1-, 2-, 4-Gbit/s versions of those protocols. It also supports 1-Gbit/s Ethernet, FCIP, and iSCSI connections.

Notably, Brocade also announced 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel support for its 48000 director switches today. The DCX also natively supports lower-speed links to Brocade's directors, including the Brocade 48000 and former McData products, the Mi10K and M6140.

Rival Cisco does not yet offer 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel, though a spokeswoman hints that it's in the works. "Cisco will be supporting 8Gb FC in the second half of 2008," writes spokeswoman Lee Davis in an email to Byte and Switch. She stresses that customers won't have to buy a new chassis for the increased speed; linecards will be offered for MDS switches.Later this year, Brocade says it will ship a 10-Gbit/s card for the DCX that supports FCoE, iSCSI, and Data Center Ethernet (also called Converged Enhanced Ethernet, a project undertaken by the IEEE).

Also on the DCF roadmap are HBAs and/or data center Ethernet blades for specific blade servers, which Brocade announced in October. The HBAs, which will interoperate with DCX connections and applications, are due later this year, and Brocade says they will be made by Brocade, not OEM'd.

Each DCX unit supports up to 448 ports, including 384 FC ports and 64 inter-chassis links or ICLs. When two boxes are joined, the count goes up to 896 ports, comprising 768 FC ports and 128 interchassis links (ICLs).

Brocade says it is enabling partner applications to run on the DCX, including EMC's Invista, Fujitsu's Eternus, and EMC RecoverPoint. A data-at-rest encryption app is also due sometime later this year.

The DCX also supports integrated routing on a per-port basis; application-based quality-of-service (QOS), data flow, and congestion management; application-specific performance reporting; and line-rate management. "We have had some of those features in the past, but they've been port-based. Now they will be applicable to virtual machine flows and implemented in firmware," says Brocade director of product marketing Mario Blandini.Clearly, the DCX is a major upgrade for big Brocade customers -- Lufthansa Systems, KPN, and EDEKA Data Center claim to be early adopters. As far as other takers go, the new product's impact remains to be seen. A big question mark hovers around Cisco. That vendor's next steps in its data center and storage strategy could help determine how and when other enterprise customers will make the considerable commitment to upgrade to the DCX.

Brocade refuses to reveal its pricing for the DCX. A Sun spokesman says Sun will sell the DCX at prices starting at $179,000.

At least one analyst thinks Brocade's DCX may be too big for its britches near term. "The DCX's biggest drawback today is that it may be too big for many customers -- however, that's also the idea: to give Brocade's customers room to grow into as a platform that can support additional blades and functionality," writes analyst Greg Schulz of the StorageIO Group in an email today. In his view, Brocade runs the risk of deflecting attention from its existing directors with all the DCX news.

"Brocade will need to be careful to not shoot themselves in the foot while balancing the need to market and get some early adopters with the DCX, while continuing to take in revenue on the existing 48000 series and former McData 6000 series," Schulz states.

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  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY)

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)

  • The StorageIO Group

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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