Brocade Ships Multiprotocol Router

New SAN connectivity device could spur action in Fibre Channel market UPDATED 6/7 2:30 PM

June 4, 2004

4 Min Read
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Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) has announced general shipment of its long-awaited Multiprotocol Router, in a move that could stir up business for Brocade -- and provoke announcements from other Fibre Channel switchmakers. (See Brocade Releases Multipro Router.)

Brocade claims the Multiprotocol Router is being evaluated by "dozens" of customers so far, including the AOL division of Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX). According to CTO Jay Kidd, all Brocade customers with three SAN fabrics or more will look at the router as a way to link islands of storage. That includes what he calls "a large percentage -- not a majority, but a very large percentage" of Brocade's customer universe, which encompasses 60,000 Fibre Channel fabrics.

Brocade's been promising a router to link multiple SAN islands for months and has been accused of lagging competitors, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) (see Brocade Late to SAN Extension Ball), who also offer their own takes on the problem.

Kidd claims a chief selling point is the device's ability to link multiple SAN fabrics without merging them, which he says causes address problems, and without changing the Fibre Channel framing, which can hurt performance. "Performance of traffic through the router is the same as through the switch -- wire speed, full bandwidth," Kidd proclaims.

Brocade's FC-to-FC routing is proprietary, but Kidd says it's based on standards and has been proposed to the T11 committee of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). The device also uses Fiber Channel over IP (FCIP) with extensions to accommodate iSCSI and provide fault isolation. Each router port supports 1- or 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet.Kidd concedes the router will cost more than other Silkworm gear -- more than twice as much per port as the average Brocade switch. Still, he maintains that customers will need far fewer routers, spreading the value of each "over dozens of switches."

Note: Brocade isn't pretending to support big SAN extensions with this product. Kidd says the vendor continues to market its resale partnerships with Computer Network Technology Corp. (CNT) (Nasdaq: CMNT) and others for applications that call for long-distance data compression, bandwidth management, and other features of WAN-based SANs.

Also note: Initially, Kidd claimed the Multiprotocol Router was the first product to link multiple SAN islands using FC-to-FC connectivity, instead of changing the underlying transport. He now concedes that LightSand Communications Corp.'s 8100A gateway had a similar capability months ago, with multivendor support to boot. But LightSand has withdrawn its FC-to-FC product from the market in favor of promoting FC-over-IP for linking long-distance SANs. EVP of sales and marketing Gregg Pugmire says the choice was made in part to avoid clashing with big switch vendors like Brocade, which is also a LightSand partner.

Pugmire also says the technology in the 8100A, which originally came from the acquisition of SANcastle (see LightSand Buys SANcastle), is popular enough that LightSand is planning to port it on its FC-over-Sonet/SDH gateways in the third quarter of 2004.

Brocade plans interoperability with gear from Cisco, McData, and others by year end. There also are plans for a blade-level version of the router for the Silkworm 24000 in roughly the same timeframe.Of course, Cisco and McData have their own claims to router fame and aren't apt to take Brocade's lying down. Cisco sells its MDS 9000 switches with what it calls Virtual SAN (VSAN) capabilities, and the addition of different modules adds inter-VSAN routing, Fibre Channel-over-IP (FCIP), and other features.

McData claims to have over 300 customers for its Eclipse and IPS series routers, which use Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP), a protocol the vendor claims gives its gear more interoperability with other vendors' wares as well as fault isolation that conforms to a standard. (FCIP, according to McData's director of solutions and technology Tom Clark, requires proprietary extensions to achieve SAN protection and fault isolation.)

McData plans a blade-level version of its iFCP router for release this fall.

In general, it's clear the market for SAN routing is still shaping up, and that individual vendors have strong arguments for their particular technologies, which require in-depth evaluation to compare reasonably to competitors's offerings.

At least one analyst, Randy Kerns of the Evaluator Group, anticipates Brocade's router will be welcomed by many customers. "The big thing is that it's a great way to interconnect SANs while protecting against duplicate domain IDs," he notes. At the same time, though, Brocade's news highlights the need for blade-level routing that supports IP as well as Fibre Channel and works with multiple vendors' switches. So far, each vendor offers part of what's required.Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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