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Brocade aims high

At its annual Brocade Technology Day held in New York, the company took the wraps off Brocade One – its blueprint for a unified architecture for the next-generation data centre, which aims to stitch together storage and network elements to deliver application performance and integrity.

“We are bridging together the two disparate worlds of storage and networking to deliver a simplified, converged and non-stop architecture,” says John McHugh, Chief Marketing Officer of Brocade, who flagged off the event and gave a different perspective on the current technology trends in the industry. “We are going through Convergence 2.0. The first wave was about converging voice, data and video on the same wire while Convergence 2.0 is melding together storage with data networks, and there are compelling business reasons to do so.”

Brocade One envisions a world where Ethernet is the backbone of the next-generation data centre. McHugh says the network is emerging as the data centre, which he says will be the most important evolution in the next couple of years. “It is not about the way you implemented products yesterday; it’s about redefining one of the most important assets in your enterprise. Brocade foresaw this trend three years ago, and we are driving application performance and information integrity out of the data centre onto the network.”

Brocade says its design objective for the Brocade One vision is to provide cost-efffective and scalable endpoints with robust uptime, and complete coverage of customers with interoperability, where business models are driven by the cloud. “Data centre is in a state of rapid transition, and we are seeing continued distribution of computing and storage resources outside the data centre. The next decade is going to be all about extending this kind of resilience and capabilities all the way to the endpoints,” says Dave Stevens, CTO of Brocade.

He adds that the coming cloud paradigm also has profound ramifications on the data centre design, which will make it mandatory for IT managers to provision services quickly, and transform physical data centre assets into virtual services. This, according to him, is the fundamental theme of Brocade One, which has two key elements- Virtual Access Layer (VAL) and Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS).

VAL seeks to provide per virtual machine QoS and allows management visibility per VM, and will eventually support IEE Edge Virtual Bridging Standards including Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregation (VPA) in two years.

The lynchpin of Brocade One is VCS, which provides lossless, low latency and multi-path networking. “This will revolutionise Layer 2 and fundamentally change the way we build access and aggregation layers,” says Stevens.

VCS powered switches, expected to ship later this year, will support 1000 10G Ethernet ports and 10,000 VMs with a fully distribute control plane and Brocade says the entire VCS cluster can be logically managed as a single switch. All 10G ports will support the IEEE’s Data Center Bridging Standards for lossless Ethernet switching, and multihop Fiber Channel over Ethernet capabilities, without Spanning Tree protocol.

The three new VCS switches will incorporate new ASICs and a new operating system called Brocade Network OS, which will converge all FC and IP services and is purpose-built for converged traffic. The new switches that address that access and aggregation layers in a data centre include a 2RU 60x10G, a 1RU 48x10G system; and a 24x10G platform. Switches with 40/100G interfaces are expected next year. Also in 2011, Brocade will ship a chassis-based core VCS switch that incorporates the new ASICs and BNOS operating system.

During the third quarter of this year, Brocade will also ship out a new best-in-class element management – Brocade Network Advisor – with Ethernet, FC and DCB element management in addition to interfaces to IBM, HP, Dell, EMC, Microsoft, VMware server, storage and hypervisor management.

Raising the stakes

While the Foundry acquisition seems to have paid off for Brocade with this new statement of purpose and a concrete product roadmap, how realistic is its Brocade One vision? Brocade, quite sensibility, doesn’t expect its vision of this brave new world to play out immediately. McHugh admits that bringing together the two disparate worlds of storage and networking with its unique set of characteristics is indeed going to a daunting task. Though it might be possible from a technology standpoint, Brocade will have to deal with the current rigid structure of IT organizations, under which storage and network management folks don’t often work together. “It is one fundamental change that we need to work on. We have to get storage and networking staff to build this architecture and enable storage environments to transcend from one end of the network to the other,” he admits.

That thorny issue aside, Brocade will have to fend off stiff competition from Cisco’s UCS and Juniper’s still-in-the-oven Project Stratus, before it translates its vision into action. McHugh believes his company might take the wind out of the sails of its competitors. “Cisco’s UCS doesn’t collapse layers. We are going to a unified architecture that very effectively scales to thousands of ports without creating multiple tiers. Juniper has been talking about it for years, and my speculation is that theirs is going to be a traditional chassis oriented architecture.”

Another key factor that will decide Brocade’s fortunes in the networking space is the channel. To Brocade to emerge as a serious alternative to Cisco, it will have to lure and take the channel along for the ride. “What we are doing is incredibily channel friendly. Now, channel partners, instead of pitching the same design as others to customers, have an opportunity to show the companies something completely different, which will dramatically simplify the customer experience and realize good margins in the process,” says McHugh, who was instrumental in fine-tuning HP ProCurve channel play and catapulting it into number two slot in the LAN switching space. Can this Ethernet veteran who is just 90 days into the job at Brocade repeat history? Only time will tell.

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