Brocade Reupholsters Rhapsody

Outfits virtualization switch in company colors. HP's on board, but will others follow?

March 3, 2003

5 Min Read
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Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) has moved quickly to assimilate Rhapsody Networks, the multiprotocol storage virtualization switch startup it acquired in November (see Brocade Scoops Up Rhapsody, Sources: Brocade to Buy Rhapsody, and Brocade Completes Rhapsody Buy).

But pretty much all it seems to have done is put a fresh coat of Brocade-style marketing paint on the Rhapsody technology, which it has renamed the SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform, and guarantee that the Rhapsody switch will interoperate with Brocade's other SilkWorm Fibre Channel switches. To hear company executives tell it, though, this repositioning is actually an important step in its strategy to convince major storage vendors to resell the switch.

"Nobody wants to buy mission-critical infrastructure from a startup," says Dave Stevens, director of business development in Brocade's fabric application platform division, who held a similar position at Rhapsody prior to the acquisition.

To date, the only OEM to buy in to the switch -- at least publicly -- is Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), which last month announced it would use the Rhapsody switch to coalesce its virtualization strategy. But HP had already done extensive work with Rhapsody prior to the Brocade acquisition and appears to have made its decision independently (see HP Picks Rhapsody).

Questions left hanging are whether other OEMs will go for the virtualization switch, and how Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) Andiamo virtualization technology will vie with it in the market (see Cisco Takes Spinnaker for a Spin and Cisco Ducks the Veritas Question).The advantage Brocade claims to have over Cisco and other rivals is that it's not dictating which software to run on the switch: "If we write a virtualization software application, we have to go to EMC Corp. [NYSE: EMC] and explain why it's better than their virtualization -- I'll never win that discussion," Stevens says.

Meanwhile, the news hook this week was supposed to be that Brocade has now signed up seven software partners that plan to develop their storage management software on the Rhapsody platform: Alacritus Software Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., FalconStor Software Inc. (Nasdaq: FALC), Incipient Inc., InterSAN Inc., StoreAge Networking Technologies Ltd., and Topio (see Brocade Announces Software Partners).

However, not one of these partners is new. Prior to the Brocade acquisition, Rhapsody had already announced agreements with each of them (see Rhapsody, Alacritus Do Backup, Rhapsody Teams With Topio, Rhapsody Into InterSAN, Rhapsody Works With Incipient, CommVault Goes Into Rhapsody, Rhapsody and StoreAge Prep Box, Rhapsody and StoreAge Canoodle, and Rhapsody Links With FalconStor).

In other non-news from Brocade, the company announced today that it has made available a software developer's kit (SDK) for the Fabric Application Platform -- but again, Rhapsody already announced the release of its SDK in September 2002 (see Rhapsody Exposes Privates).

Finally, Brocade says the Rhapsody switch is now fully interoperable with other SilkWorm switches. "We spent a lot of time making sure this is a full, good member of the SilkWorm family," Stevens says. "As a startup, we got 80 percent of the way there."All in all, not much new here. And there was one major partner missing from this announcement: Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS), which was Rhapsody's earliest software partner, with code running on the switch since September 2001. Stevens says Brocade's relationship with Veritas has changed: "Veritas will do that development as an ISV [independent software vendor]," he says.

Is that partnership weakening because Veritas is also doing extensive development work to integrate its software into the Cisco MDS 9000 switches? Brocade execs wouldn't say. But, Stevens notes, "I think we're at least a year ahead of [Cisco]."

Meanwhile, McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) claims that it, too, has a strategy to deliver virtualization services in its switches. Whatever it is, though, McData's not ready to talk about it. "Ask an end user what they care most about when working with vendors, and 'virtualization strategy' usually is not very high up on that list," says company spokesman Ryan Batty.

Brocade executives did share some details on the architecture of the Rhapsody switch, which is designed as an "open" platform for running storage applications such as volume management and data management in the SAN fabric. "The purpose of the fabric applications platform is to provide a landing pad for those applications," says Stevens.

The Rhapsody switch, which will first be delivered to OEMs as a 16-port box, uses a "split-mode architecture" dubbed XPath. The two major elements of this are the central CPU, which is a PowerPC processor running the NetBSD operating system; and the port-based XPath Storage Processors, or XSPs, which are 3 million-gate ASICs. In the middle is a transport-neutral, 1-terabit-per-second crossconnect fabric.The split-mode operation allows the central CPU to run the applications, while the XSPs -- each of which can handle 50,000 I/O Operations Per Second (IOPS), the company claims -- provide high-speed performance to carry out instructions from the applications hosted on the central CPU. Because of this architecture, Stevens claims the switch is highly scaleable: "As Rhapsody, we built a higher-density platform [than 16 ports]... What we did was take that and scale it down."

The switch also can run either 1- or 2-Gbit/s FC or IP on each port. "We have IP and Fibre Channel MAC [media access control] interfaces on each port, so it's software-selectable which one you want to use," says Stevens. While it supports both iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) protocols, Stevens says the major OEMs with which Brocade is working aren't especially interested in IP storage today. "It runs iSCSI, but we haven't done any work to optimize it," he says.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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