Brocade weaves an open fabric

Brocade applies storage expertise to flat networking based on open standards

It's no secret that Fibre Channel storage vendor Brocade has long coveted a piece of the next-generation data center network. The company made that clear with its 2008 acquisition of Ethernet switch vendor Foundry Networks.

Brocade boosts 10G Ethernet density for data centers

And in June, Brocade unveiled its Brocade One converged data center architecture strategy and product plans.

"Ideally, you should be able to encapsulate an application in a virtual machine and pick up network, storage, security and other components and assemble those into a virtual data center. That data center infrastructure is tuned to the applications, and when the applications aren't needed any longer, the pieces of that virtual data center return to the pool," says Dave Stevens, Brocade CTO.

"Making virtual machines work in that environment, locally and over distance, and making the infrastructure configurable and able to be allocated via software is exactly where we're headed," he says.

Flattening the network infrastructure – simplifying it to look more like a bus – will make mobility of virtual machines much easier than it is today, Stevens says.

Brocade's new fabric

With this architecture, Brocade introduces a core fabric technology it calls Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS).

With VCS, enterprise network managers will be able to build lossless, low-latency Layer 2 data center fabrics they need to support the virtualized server infrastructure, Stevens says.

But they won't need to rely on the outdated and limiting Spanning Tree, which permits only a single active path between any two network nodes. Instead, Brocade has adapted some of its storage networking know-how to the Ethernet world, and relies on emerging work from the standards bodies.

Ports in a VCS switch cluster will support the IEEE's Data Center Bridging standards for lossless Ethernet switching and multihop Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) networking. In addition, Brocade also will use the IETF's emerging Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) standard for transporting data across converged fabrics. TRILL includes the ability to route over the shortest path between two points.

"With VCS, you can wire in a mesh, a ring, a flat tree – whatever topology you want to wire in and every link is active. It supports native-mode, equal QoS multipathing through the Ethernet fabric … with auto-discovery of active links and automatic rerouting if a switch is lost," Steven says.

"Effectively, what you end up with is a very large data center cloud that grows proportionally as you add switches," adds Stevens, noting that a VCS cluster can support 1,000 10G Ethernet ports and 10,000 virtual machines. In addition, the cluster is manageable as a single logical switch, and VCS clusters can be connected for environments comprising more than 10,000 virtual machines.

"Consider VCS a revolutionary way to build access- and aggregation-layer networks that dramatically simplify operations, improve productivity and make management easier," he says.

Weaving in openness

Brocade will ship the first VCS switches and its new management console, Brocade Network Advisor, this year, Stevens says.

Brocade Network Advisor, a data center management tool, acts as both an element manager for data center components as well as a translation layer between the Brocade fabric and whatever orchestration and management tools an enterprise might already be using, he says.

It's all part of Brocade's goal of investment protection, Stevens says. "We know ripping out an old network and putting in an entirely new one isn't an option for our or anybody else's customers," he says. "We know we have to have a go-forward plan from the installed base."

Jeff Wilson, service delivery director at Denovo, cloud infrastructure provider in Niwot, Colo., likes the openness Brocade talks about for the future. "I've been down the single vendor road before, and I don't like the lack of flexibility. I'd rather use a best-of-breed strategy than go with a single vendor."

Denovo, which uses Brocade SAN switches, "is definitely watching what's going on with new data center network technology," Wilson says. The ability to reduce complexity by simplifying cabling and management of the storage and Ethernet infrastructures is a motivating factor, he adds.

Andre Kindness, senior analyst for enterprise networking at Forrester Research, gives Brocade kudos for the relative openness of its unified data center scheme.

"Like Juniper, it's differentiating itself from Cisco by saying it'll offer a solution that doesn't lock you in to using one particular vendor's servers or storage and that, theoretically, can be used with old network equipment during a slow transition period," he says. "It's offering choice and flexibility."

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