Brocade Prepares for 100 Gigabit Ethernet

Anyone wondering whether Ethernet might be the data storage fabric of the future should look no further than Brocade’s (NASDAQ: BRCD) plans to offer 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) next year (see Falling 10GbE Prices Spell Doom for Fibre Channel).

Brocade has not yet officially announced its 100 GbE module availability, but Nadeem Zahid, senior product marketing manager for the storage switch market leader, told this week that he is optimistic it will be available in 2010.

“Our strategy is not to require a forklift upgrade whenever new technology comes — we try to leverage existing technology as much as we can,” Zahid said. “Having said that, the 100 gig capability is built into the Netiron XMR and MLX today. The backplanes are fully capable of handling that. It’s a matter of certain minor upgrades that will be needed like for example switch fabrics to be able to handle the additional capacity.”

Though the actual IEEE 100 GbE standard is not yet ratified, the core technical specifications are in place, with vendors like Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Juniper (NASDAQ: JNPR) already announcing their respective product offerings in the space.

For Brocade, the plan is to offer its Netiron XMR or MLX customers a new module that they install to activate a 100 GbE network.

The 100 GbE offerings from Alcatel-Lucent, Juniper and Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) — Brocade’s competitor in the storage switch market — are all based on a similar approach, through which a 100 GbE services card will plug into a core router to begin delivering 100 GbE services.

Though the major vendors will all be vying for a share of the 100 GbE pie, Brocade is hoping to compete successfully by taking some of the interesting features it supports today on 10 GbE and moving them to the next-generation technology, Zahid said.

Among those features is the ability to do link aggregation: Brocade currently has the ability to aggregate 32 x 10 GbE links to provide 320 gigabits of bandwidth.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Brocade will have a 32 x 100 GbE link aggregation solution that could provide up to 3.2 terabits, however.

“It would be premature for me to say, and I actually don’t know what chipset or software will allow us to do that,” Zahid said. “But I’m sure whatever maximum we can do, we will do it.”

Zahid added that even when 100 GbE is available, there will still be demand for 10 GbE carrier solutions. A number of carriers, including Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Qwest (NYSE: Q), have publicly announced their 100 GbE intentions.

“Even after 100 GbE is out, there will be people that will for a long time be using 10 GbE,” Zahid said. “I don’t think 10 GbE will vanish all of a sudden.”

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Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.
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