Brocade this week launched its first 16-Gbps Fibre Channel (FC) switches, giving them pride of place in the CloudPlex fabric, a newly announced architecture for uniting servers, storage devices, and other components into a heterogeneous cloud. CloudPlex also includes Brocade's 10-Gbps Ethernet switches, new multiprotocol (FC and Ethernet) adapter cards, and a roadmap of partnerships and planned standards support.
CloudPlex is similar in concept to Ethernet fabrics being promoted by rivals such as Cisco and Force10: a faster, flatter network architecture designed for supporting thousands of virtual machines and keeping track of them as they move across the data center or the Internet. However, Brocade is targeting customers who see FC as more than just a legacy technology to be virtualized over Ethernet, pointing out that FC it is still the dominant protocol for storage virtualization. Support for both FC and Ethernet also bolsters Brocade's claims to be open, a claim also made by Force10 (and most other Cisco competitors).
Along with CloudPlex, Brocade launched both chassis-based and fixed configuration 16-Gbps FC switches. The Brocade 6510 switch is a 1U appliance with a total throughput of 768 Gbps and 24 or 48 FC ports, configurable to run at 2, 4, 8, or 16 Gbps. The DCX 8510 Backbone is a chassis available in 4-slot and 8-slot versions, supporting up to 384 16-Gbps ports or 512 8-Gbps ports, with a total aggregate throughput of 8.2 Tbps. This is roughly the same bandwidth density (1 Tbps per rack unit) as the Ethernet switches that Force10 announced in April.
Brocade has also outlined its vision for upcoming parts of the CloudPlex fabric. These include the OpenFlow standard for managing and virtualizing Ethernet switches, the OpenStack open source software for building clouds, and Virtual Compute Blocks, Brocade's answer to Cisco's vBlocks. These pre-configured racks, which combine Brocade networking gear with servers, storage, software, and, in some cases, services from other vendors, are intended to help customers avoid integration work. Brocade is playing up the open angle as an obvious contrast to vBlocks, which include only Cisco, EMC, and VMware, though as yet there are no announced Virtual Compute Blocks, so any increased choice for customers is still theoretical. Partners mentioned by Brocade in the launch include IBM, Dell, Fujistu, VMWare, Microsoft, HP, and Hitachi.
Other Brocade partners are licensing the 16-Gbps FC technology, with EMC announcing Connectrix hardware based on it at the same time as Brocade. "Fabric-based networks are a fundamental requirement to support highly virtualized data centers," said Josh Kahn, VP of cloud marketing at EMC, in a video statement. EMC says that 16-Gbps Connectrix gear will be available within 90 days
While Brocade leaves servers to others, it does make adapter cards--a market neglected by most of the Ethernet fabric players. As part of its CloudPlex announcement, Brocade launched what the 1860 Fabric Adapter--a card that can support either 16-Gbps Fibre Channel or 10 Gbps Ethernet at wire speed, with on-board Fibre Channel over Ethernet and virtualization that can partition each card into eight virtual Ethernet network interface cards or FC host bus adapters. The intention here looks like greater flexibility, not giving enterprises an easier migration path from FC to Ethernet, as Brocade emphasizes 16 Gbps FC's speed advantage over 10 Gbps Ethernet.