Brocade, Cisco Position for Network Convergence

Brocade (NASDAQ: BRCD) and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) took their data center network rivalry to a new level this week, with Brocade moving down market and Cisco moving up (see Cisco, Brocade See One Big Happy Fabric).

Cisco unveiled its latest Nexus data center switches, while Brocade took the wraps off the DCX-4S Backbone, which offers half the ports of the company’s DCX Backbone.

Cisco announced the Nexus 7018 and 5010 switches and the Nexus 2000 Series Fabric Extenders. The 7018 offers an 18-slot chassis that supports as much as 512 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports to consolidate IP, storage and interprocess communication (IPC) networks on a single Ethernet fabric. The 5010 28-port switch supports 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Data Center Ethernet (DCE), Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Fibre Channel.

The Brocade DCX-4S comes with the new Brocade Fabric OS (FOS) 6.2, which includes a new Virtual Fabrics capability that enables the partitioning of a physical SAN into virtual fabrics. The DCX-4S is built on a multi-protocol architecture that supports emerging standards like Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and FCoE by adding a blade at any time.

The Brocade DCX-4S Backbone is available now from Brocade and partners HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA).

When Will FCoE Arrive?

One of the technologies central to the new offerings and the vision of a unified data center fabric is FCoE — which Cisco sees coming soon, but others in the industry think is more likely to gain traction in the 2010-2012 timeframe.

“It’s moving very fast,” said Dante Malagrino, director of product marketing for Cisco Data Center Solutions. “We’re in a situation where everyone’s trying to save on costs, and that’s the kind of environment that a unified fabric was made for.”

HP Distinguished Technologist Jieming Zhu sees FCoE catching on — but not until next year at the earliest.

“The road is still long and arduous, especially in this economy,” he told Enterprise Storage Forum.

“A data center technology always takes a long time to go mainstream,” said Zhu, especially one that requires changes to network infrastructures, switches and HBAs (in the form of converged network adapters, or CNAs).

Still, he sees a number of benefits from FCoE: a “drastic” reduction in cable complexity and cost, lower power consumption and improved connectivity, virtualization and flexibility.

“We’re working very closely with our partners,” said Zhu. “When they have products ready, we will be ready.”

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Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for Time.com, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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