Normally, when a vendor is the undisputed king of a market, there’s a risk of the company taking their eye off the ball and letting markets slip away. BlackBerry in the smartphone market, 3Com with NIC cards and switches, and Nortel with almost everything they made are some examples of this. However, every once in a while vendors do surprise by trying to change the very market they dominate. Sure, it has risk, but generally markets need to be shaken up once in a while to make sure they don’t stagnate.
On March 25, Brocade, the clear market leader with north of 70% share in storage networks, announced its "Fabric Vision" strategy to make the generational upgrades to Fibre Channel technology about more than just raw speeds. Currently, whenever someone refers to a SAN switch, it’s referred to as "Brocade’s 16GB Switch" or "Cisco’s 8GB Switch," which in some ways indicates the switches' only differentiated value is speed. Juxtapose this with the wireless industry, where the generational leaps are referred to as "3G" and "4G." Sure, buyers know that 4G is faster than 3G, but there are also other benefits that come along with it.
Fabric Vision is comprised of both speed features and tools that enhance Brocade’s current 16 GB portfolio, which Brocade refers to as "Gen 5." As part of this launch, Brocade released a number of management and visibility tools to help storage administrators understand the traffic patterns and end-to-end performance. Visibility and monitoring tools for data networking have been on fire over the past couple of years, but have not existed in storage networks, making trouble shooting very difficult. The dashboard provided with Fabric Vision is customizable to allow administrators to see what’s most important to them.
Also, as part of this release, Brocade announced a software suite called "Monitoring and Alerting Policy" or MAPS that allows fabric-wide thresholds to be set based on corporate policies. Again, a common function of data networks, but non-existent in storage networks.
Fabric Vision also brings together storage networking and software defined networks (SDNs) as the company is working with its storage ecosystem to enable OpenStack-based orchestration. This would allow the full orchestration of servers, network, and storage technology through the use of OpenStack.
The Gen5-based Fabric Vision introduced a feature called ClearLink to pretest the Fibre Channel network at full line rate by simulating traffic across the entire network. This capability is built into the switch, so there’s no need for TAPs or probes. I can see this being very popular with storage administrators as they look to expand the storage network.
No vendor announcement would be complete without a new hardware product. Brocade introduced the 6250 Fibre Channel switch which has 96 16 GB FC ports in a 2U Chassis complementing the rest of the product suite.
Lastly, Brocade announced a bit of vision by stating that it was committed to 32GB FC, which it calls Gen6, due out in 2015.
Despite the threat of FCoE, the Fibre Channel market is still robust and healthy and there’s clearly room for innovation. It’s good to see market leader Brocade focus on more than just raw speed by introducing a number of management tools that have been absent in the storage industry for so many years.