Brocade Loads Code, Signs EMC

Finally delivers high-availability features for SilkWorm 12000; EMC OEMs its virtualization switch

March 31, 2003

5 Min Read
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One year after it first shipped the SilkWorm 12000, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) is finally providing high-availability (HA!) features that will make the switch a "director-class" product. Better late than never?

Two critical HA features -- nondisruptive code load and nondisruptive processor failover -- are part of a broader upgrade to the Fabric Operating System firmware Brocade is announcing at its user conference in Las Vegas this week (see Brocade Upgrades Fabric OS).

"This removes the last remaining objection anyone might have to the 12000 being a director-class product," says Derek Granath, Brocade's director of product marketing.

In a separate announcement, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) today said it plans to deploy its storage management applications on the switch platform developed by Rhapsody Networks, which Brocade acquired last fall. EMC says it has been working with the Rhapsody switch in its labs for about a year, and expects to ship a 16-port version of the product in the second half of 2003 (see EMC OEMs Brocade's Rhapsody Switch).

So what does EMC plan to do with the Rhapsody switch, which Brocade has renamed the SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform? It's not completely clear. Paul Ross, director of storage network marketing at EMC, says that the software it's developing for the Rhapsody switch will provide "new capabilities" in three general areas: storage presentation, i.e., presenting logical unit number (LUNs) and aggregating storage arrays; dynamic routing and traffic management (at the LUN level, not packet level); and data classification, which includes enhanced security and enhanced data management functions.But Ross notes, "We're not getting into specifics of functionality or delivery dates... Brocade is making this announcement, and we're saying, 'Great, we're going to support it, we're going to resell it.' "

EMC is the second OEM Brocade has lined up for the Rhapsody platform, following Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), which has already geared its virtualization strategy around the Rhapsody switch (see HP, IBM Make Virtual Motions, HP Picks Rhapsody, and Brocade Reupholsters Rhapsody).

About Brocade's software rollout, CEO Greg Reyes claims it's "the most comprehensive software release in Brocade's history." [Ed. note: In his usual understated fashion.]

With the upgrade, Brocade is addressing the primary reservations that its customers and partners -- including EMC and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) -- have expressed about the 12000. The features come at an especially important time for Brocade, too, as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) starts stepping on the gas with its MDS 9000 Fibre Channel switches (see EMC's Caveats on Brocade 12000 and IBM on Brocade's 12000: Not Quite).

Fabric OS 4.1, available for the SilkWorm 3900 and 12000, provides "hot-code activation" (a.k.a. nondisruptive code load), which means a switch doesn't stop processing traffic while its firmware is being upgraded. The new release also provides nondisruptive processor failover, which allows failover to a secondary processor without any disruption to the data flow, and suppresses Registered State Change Notification (RSCN) messages during firmware upgrades.In addition, Brocade has tested and certified Fabric OS as able to support up to 1,300 ports; previously, it was certified for up to 830. Pending certification by IBM, the new firmware also will give the 12000 support for Ficon, a protocol for sending mainframe data over Fibre Channel. The switch will support cascaded Ficon fabrics and an "intermix mode" that will allow both Ficon and open Fibre Channel systems traffic on a port-by-port basis.

Ironically, however, to obtain these features, existing 3900 and 12000 users will suffer about a 30-second disruption when upgrading to Fabric OS version 4.1.

Why are these key features for the 12000 only showing now -- a year after Brocade first shipped the product in March 2002? (See Brocade Releases 12000... Again?).

"It was a time-to-market decision," says Granath, who notes that even without hot-code activation, Brocade has sold more than 1,500 SilkWorm 12000s to date. "This just takes that one objection that customers may have completely off the table." He adds that even with hot-code activation, Brocade will continue to recommend customers deploy dual-fabric SANs for redundancy. "There are things other than hardware failures that can cause a fabric to fail."

Meanwhile, Brocade is concurrently releasing Fabric OS 3.1, a separate firmware code base for its older eight-port 3200 and 16-port 3800 switches, which run on Wind River Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: WIND) VxWorks operating system, whereas the 3900 and 12000 run on Linux. Version 3.1 doesn't include the high-availability features that the 4.1 does.How soon customers can get their hands on the new Fabric OS will depend on the release schedules of Brocade's OEMs, which are now qualifying the code. Granath says Brocade expects its partners to complete this cycle of testing in 6 to 12 weeks.

Other highlights of Brocade's software announcement today:

  • Secure Fabric OS: An option (priced per switch) for Brocade-only SAN fabrics that uses digital certificates to prevent unauthorized configuration changes; every switch in the network has to be running the proprietary Secure Fabric OS, available with Brocade's Fabric OS 3.1 and 4.1, in order to work. It also supports FC Authentication Protocol, an emerging standard that lets Fibre Channel devices authenticate themselves to a fabric.

  • Fabric Device Management Interface: Built around its initiative with Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX) in October 2002, this feature allows users to download firmware to a host bus adapter (HBA) through the SAN fabric and discover HBA information without using agents. Currently, this only works with Emulex HBAs (see Brocade Teams With HP, Emulex).

  • Webtools: Provides new graphical user interface; adds ability to report uptime, security metrics, congestion monitoring.

  • Management API Scripting Developer's Kit: Formalizes a Perl scripting toolkit for customers that want to do their own in-house programming to tap into Brocade switches.

  • Fabric Manager 4.0: Now manages up to eight SAN switch fabrics from a single console. Other enhancements include "at-a-glance" dashboards, support for HBA management, and a "call-home" feature, which aggregates event information from switches.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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