Brocade bumps Fibre Channel up to 16Gbps

The networking company has unveiled a 16Gbps Fibre Channel product portfolio designed to support high throughput in virtualised environments

Brocade has introduced a 16Gbps Fibre Channel product portfolio designed to help private clouds deal with higher networking throughput arising from virtualisation.

The backbone of the portfolio, announced by Brocade on Tuesday at its Technology Day in San Jose, California, is a 16Gbps storage area network (SAN) appliance. The package, which includes four other hardware and software products, is the first from the networking company to run Fibre Channel (FC) at 16Gbps.

The input/output and bandwidth requirements for each server's connection to the network will increase over time. It's critical that the storage fabric scales with that network over time.

– Jason Nolet, Brocade

FC is the dominant data transfer protocol used to link storage and servers. Previously, Brocade had FC products on the market that could go as high as 8Gbps, as do competitors such as Juniper Networks and Cisco.

With the announcement, Brocade has pulled ahead of its chief competitor Cisco in terms of Fibre Channel support. But while Brocade may be in the lead regarding FC, analysts are skeptical as to the benefit of this.

"Most customers will not put 16Gbps FC or 40GbE [Gigabit Ethernet] into production environments until 2013 or later," Stuart Miniman, principal research contributor for analyst firm Wikibon, wrote in a blog post.

"I don't see 16Gb [FC] changing the landscape," Miniman told ZDNet UK.

But Brocade believes that higher FC is important for networks that are supporting increasing numbers of virtualised machines.

"The [input/output] and bandwidth requirements for each server's connection to the network will increase over time," Jason Nolet, Brocade's vice president for datacentre and enterprise networking, said at the company's event. "It's critical [to make sure] that the storage fabric scales with that network over time."

The new FC hardware — backbone, switch and adapter — all use a Brocade-developed application-specific integrated circuit (Asic) to provide low-power FC-specific processing. Asics sit between field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and general purpose processors, and their power needs are significantly less than those of typical processors. Brocade says this has allowed it to cut the power usage of its hardware.

Adapters and network management updates

Alongside the backbone, the company announced the Brocade 6510, a virtualisation and SSD-friendly switch; the Brocade 1860 multi-protocol fabric adapter; and updates to its Network Advisor network management software and its FC operating system, Brocade Fabric OS.

The Brocade DCX 8510 Backbone is available in two variants — the eight-port Brocade DCX 8510-8 and the four-port Brocade DCX 8510-4. The DCX 8510-4 supports up to 192 ports at 16Gbps with an aggregate chassis bandwidth of 4.1Tbps, while the DCX 8510-8 handles up to 384 ports with a bandwidth of 8.2Tbps.

The one-rack unit (1U), 16Gbps Brocade 6510 Switch is targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises. It is available in 24, 36 or 48-port configurations with an aggregate switching capacity of 768Gbps. It comes bundled with software by Brocade for automating aspects of switch setup and management and is designed for highly virtualised, private cloud storage.

The Brocade 6510 can be linked to other switches by binding eight of its ports together to provide a 128Gbps Inter-Switch Link.

The company is not forsaking Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), however; it released the 1860 Fabric Adapter, which supports both 16Gbps FC or 10Gbps FCoE. The adapter is targeted at environments with high levels of virtualisation. It uses a technology named Virtual Machine Optimised Ports (VMOPS), which helps outsource virtual network packet classification from the hypervisor onto the adapter itself.

Brocade has plans to take its products all the way up to 32Gbps FC in the future, it confirmed at the conference.

The 16Gbps FC products are expected to ship within the first half of 2011, Brocade said. Pricing was not available.

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