Brocade Sails Away with 64-port Switch

“The greatSAN experiment is over,” declares Jay Kidd, vice president of product marketingat Brocade Communications. Kidd believes SANs have proven their utility in enterpriseenvironments, and now it’s Brocade’s mission is to extend and expand SANutility.

Kidd saysBrocade and other SAN companies no longer have to convince customers and OEMsthat Fibre Channel SAN is a viable technology -- Brocade’s rapid growth is atestament to that. Now, the mission is to improve scalability and availability.

Brocadeintroduced a 64-port Fibre Channel switch that it says will extend thescalability and stability of SANs by allowing greater connectivity betweencomponents. Brocade has been a long time advocate of the fabric SAN topologywhich interconnects devices in a redundant, woven topology, as opposed to looptopology.

TheSilkworm 6400 64-port switch will hit the market in March 2001, ramping up theswitching capacity of SANs, particularly those in Windows NT/2000 environments.Silkworm 6400 is a 14U-sized box containing six Brocade switching unitspreconnected into a fabric topology that behaves as a single 64-port switch.

Althoughdoubling the number of ports on a SAN switch seems an incremental step, ratherthan the hallmark of a new strategy, Brocade is touting the switch for two ofthe same reasons that Microsoft is touting its high-end server products.“People are looking for extreme levels of scalability,” Kidd says.

Brocadesays the added ports on the switches enable greater redundancy, scalability andhigh availability. Clustered server environments often rely on SANs to ensurethat all of the servers have access to the same data. A fail-over server is oflittle use if users can only access stale data.

Brocadetakes a similar approach, advising users to offer multiple direct paths fromservers to storage so network problems don’t become storage problems. Becauseredundant switches need more ports, the 64-port switch is a big gun in thebattle for redundant SANs. “In this environment, there is no single point offailure,” Kidd says.

Just asMicrosoft touts Windows 2000 Datacenter Server as a means of eliminating the“islands of automation” resulting from monolithic mainframes in the enterprise,Brocade aims to eliminate isolated storage pools -- whether they are SANs orlegacy systems -- by linking them together for greater efficiency andconnectivity.

Brocade hasanother element of the mainframe world in its sights with the Silkworm 6400: aFibre Channel device known as the director. Although directors are rarelydeployed in NT environments, Kidd says high-end switches cost about half asmuch as directors.

Directorsare generally deployed for centralized SAN management in mainframeenvironments. Eric Shepard, an analyst at IDC, says that the line between aswitch and a director is not clearly defined, but the main differences betweenthe two are that directors are more redundant and more expensive.

Brocadealso has the Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) targeted with the Silkworm 6400.If an administrator has full SANs at a number of sites in an area, this switchlets the administrator consolidate the systems into a single network overgeographic distance. If an administrator simply wants to connect a remoteserver via Fibre Channel, the switch may also come in handy, since it enables agreater degree of redundancy.

Althoughmost Fibre Channel systems are limited to distances of less than 100 miles,Kidd points to a few technologies that extend its reach. At the top of Kidd’slist is Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM), a telecommunicationstechnology that allows multiple data streams on a single strand of fiber byusing multiple lasers emitting light of different frequencies. Some users arebeginning to use the technology to send Fibre Channel information from site tosite.

Whether ornot Fibre Channel becomes a long distance transmission medium, Shepard believesusers will begin to demand the connection of geographically separated SANs.“Moving forward, we see a definite demand to connect SANs,” he says.

Longdistance SAN connections can allow users to replicate and backup data across alarge area, critical for e-businesses who have servers in multiple geographies.

Kidd saysthe Silkworm 6400 is a leap in SAN development. “The long-term trend is towardfabric switching,” he says, asserting that the switch is the next step in thattrend.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc., San Jose Calif.,
IDC, Framingham, Mass.,