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Brocade HyperEdge Promises To Ease LAN Management

Brocade has announced a new initiative to simplify switch configuration and management. HyperEdge lets IT professionals designate a master switch that can manage all other switches on the LAN. Brocade HyperEdge is a response to Cisco, Juniper and other vendors that are offering simplified management. HyperEdge software creates a virtual stack of Brocade's ICX and FCX switches, allowing IT to manage tens or hundreds of devices as a single logical unit. HyperEdge should ease multidevice management and provide a clear upgrade path from low-cost edge switches to higher-cost, more capable products. While Hyper Edge should be welcome news to Brocade customers, it won't be available until the first quarter of 2013.

HyperEdge is based on switch-stacking technology. In traditional switch stacks, eight to 12 edge switches are cabled together and managed as a single unit. Vendors have various ways of stacking switches--for example, through a dedicated stack cable or by using 10-Gbit or 40-Gbit interfaces. In most cases, one switch in the stack is dedicated as the stack master. The stack master manages the other switches in the stack. If you have 80 switches in 10 stacks, then you only manage eight devices, which greatly simplifies device management. While stacking has been around for more than 10 years, it is still in moderate demand by enterprise IT, according to our recent IT Pro Ranking: LAN Equipment Vendors (free, registration required).

Brocade claims HyperEdge will extend that concept so that one master switch can manage every other HyperEdge stack as a single unit. IT will still need to build switch stacks, but those stacks will be managed by one device. IT can also designate any other switch in the HyperEdge stack, in the same stack or a separate stack, as a secondary management node. This node shares the same configuration and virtual IP as the management master, so if the primary fails, the secondary takes over automatically.

Cisco and Juniper have been pursuing zero-configuration networking to ease switch installation and management. Zero-configuration networking lets IT pros define a switch configuration once. With the HyperEdge system, when a switch connects to the network, it discovers the HyperEdge master and gets the configuration from there. This can also save IT time and effort when providing software updates, changing management IP addresses and other configuration options because the master switch pushes out those changes to others in the HyperEdge.

HyperEdge also eases installation and replacement because you can add, mix and match switch models in the HyperEdge stack so that you can add switches to an existing stack without having to worry about matching models. Extreme Networks has offered mix-and-match stacking, called Unistack, in its Summit X series for a few years. Mix-and-match stacking provides investment protection for existing products and allows you to build your stacks as you need them.

Brocade's HyperEdge can stack ICX and FCX switches, which will provide backward compatibility with existing switch families. HyperEdge will also enable IT to add functionality to the network as needed. HyperEdge can intelligently route flows to a specific switch for processing. If a flow needs Layer 3 processing, such as multicast, it is sent to Brocade's ICX 6610, announced in November 2011, which can process multicast. Brocade claims this provides a more flexible and low-cost edge while retaining the functionality of higher-end switches. However, don't confuse flow forwarding with SDN technologies such as OpenFlow. HyperEdge is more akin to a chassis switch, which means flows will be forwarded to a device that can process the flows.

Brocade's existing FCX switch line and its new ICX switch line can participate in HyperEdge. HyperEdge is a software upgrade and will be available in 2013. No licensing was announced.

Brocade is also launching two new ICX switches, the ICX 6430 and ICX 6450, which offer Energy Efficient Ethernet and MACsec (802.1AE) support. The MACsec support is notable because only a few vendors, including Aruba and Cisco, have Ethernet switches that support MACsec. 802.1ae is a relatively new Ethernet protocol that authenticates Ethernet peers, whether switch-to-switch or host-to-switch, and can encrypt the Ethernet traffic.