Brocade Brings Midrange Switch, Stretches Storage Fabric

"Anticipating what customers will need in terms of performance in their high-end SANs," the company announces a a 4 Gbit per second, 32-port switch. It also releases Brocade Fabric Operating System 4.4.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. on Monday announced a 4 Gbit per second, 32-port switch, paving the way for the coming 4 Gbit/sec technology due to hit the streets within the next few months.

The Brocade SilkWorm 4100 family of switches, based on the San Jose, Calif., companys fifth-generation Fibre Channel technology, offers 16-, 24- and 32-port configurations. The new ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) allows organizations to logically group as many as eight 4G ports together to create a 32 Gbit/sec trunk between a pair of switches.

Although few if any organizations need that kind of bandwidth today over switches, "over time, traffic patterns will continue to increase, and we are anticipating what customers will need in terms of performance in their high-end SANs [storage-area networks]," said Derek Granath, director of product marketing at Brocade.

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The new switches, which are the first to offer 4G functionality, will help prepare organizations infrastructures for the imminent arrival of 4G devices, said Randy Kerns, senior partner at Evaluator Group Inc., a Greenwood Village, Colo., storage consultancy.

4G devices should start appearing in the first part of 2005, he said, and competitors such as McData Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. probably will announce their own 4G switches soon.

Because the technology supports twice the number of servers on each port, it can help reduce the cost of a SAN infrastructure, Brocades Granath said. "By connecting the switches together, it frees up more ports on the switch for the customer to connect servers and storage devices," he said.

"And by introducing the technology at an aggressive price point, Brocade is probably setting the new price point for this new class of switches," Kerns said.

Brocade also announced improvements to its Fabric Operating System for the SilkWorm SAN switches and directors. The new version, Brocade Fabric OS 4.4, promises faster data transfer rates over longer distances, increased port density for greater scalability within existing fabrics, better network management features and improved security.

Most noteworthy, however, is FICON CUP (Control Unit Port) support for mainframe computing environments, which allows mainframe applications to perform configuration, management, monitoring and error handling. The capability, which has been certified by IBM, is particularly important for enterprise-class customers that still use mainframes, Granath said.

The new version of the operating system also has a new frame-based ISL Trunking feature, which allows for a high-bandwidth path between a pair of networked switches and the ability to monitor that path on a device-by-device basis.

Other improvements include a detailed view of connections to switches and servers; Dynamic Path Selection to optimize performance by balancing data loads throughout the network; and color-coded pictures to identify how well individual switches are optimized for peak performance.

On the security front, the operating system now supports RADIUS; SSL (Secure Sockets Layer); HTTPS; and DH-CHAP (Diffie Hellman-Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol), a secure key-exchange authentication protocol that supports both switch-to-switch and host-to-switch authentication.

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