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Has Brocade Seen Interop Light?

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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