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Entry-level Brocade FC switch enables NVMe flash fabric

New Brocade SAN switch turns Fibre Channel into NVMe fabric for all-flash storage. The G610 device is targeted at converged infrastructure, small SANs and rack-based flash servers.

Storage networking giant Brocade Communication Systems expanded its family of Fibre Channel switches with a scalable 1U entry-level device that integrates support for nonvolatile memory express flash.

The product launch today is Brocade's first since chipmaker Broadcom made a $5.9 billion acquisition bid in November. That deal is expected to close this year.

The latest Brocade FC switch is the G610 model that starts at eight ports and can be licensed for up to 24 small form-factor pluggable (SFP+) ports. Pricing for the base configuration -- eight ports at 16 gigabits per second (Gbps) bandwidth -- is about $8,000. Customers can upgrade the speed by swapping in 32 Gbps optics in the SFP+ ports.

Along with the new SAN switch, Brocade rolled out enhanced storage monitoring in its Fabric Vision software. VM Insight detects health and performance problems at the VM level in the SAN.

Brocade: Fibre Channel is fabric of choice for NVMe flash

The G610 is part of Brocade's Gen 6 family of switching that supports 32 Gbps connectivity. Other Gen 6 features include Forward Error Correction for reliability, N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) for easier deployment with virtual servers, and enhanced support for security standards.

The Brocade G610 switch turns Fibre Channel (FC) into an NVMe fabric used to relay command sets from a host computer to high-performance NVMe all-flash storage. It eventually will replace Brocade 300 and Brocade 6510 low-end SAN switches.

The family of Brocade FC switch hardware for Gen 6 includes the 64-port G620 high-end SAN switch, the Brocade Analytics Monitoring Platform, Brocade X6 Director and X6 port and extension blades. The G610 is intended as a top-of-rack switch for small SANs, converged infrastructure and racks of server-based networked storage.

The next wave of innovation will come when NVMe becomes networked.
Scott Shimomurasenior director of product marketing, Brocade

"We positioned it to be an affordable entry-level switch that is easy to deploy and use. We give you a tool to set it up and configure it for production in about three minutes," said Scott Shimomura, a Brocade senior director of product marketing.

Brocade FC switch sales account for about 70% of the market, but the vendor is turning to nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) flash to shore up an industry-wide decline in networked storage sales. NVMe is a flash-optimizing protocol designed as an alternative to SCSI-based block storage. NVMe reduces latency by allowing a solid-state drive (SSD) to directly access a computer's PCIe bus.

The shift to the cloud and virtualized storage is triggering consolidation in the FC market. In addition to Broadcom buying Brocade, semiconductor maker Cavium last year paid a reported $1 billion to acquire adapter vendor QLogic.

Brocade FC switch sales took a hit in the fourth quarter of 2016, as its SAN product revenue declined 12% year over year to $207 million. Storage sales usually spike in the final quarter of the year, but Brocade's FC switching ticked up only 1% over the third quarter. Brocade blamed the worst-than-expected revenue on competition from other networking technologies and uncertainty caused by the pending Broadcom deal.

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at IT analyst firm ZK Research in Westminster, Mass., said the new Brocade FC switch can help even smaller organizations switch over to NVMe.

"People have been predicting the death of Fibre Channel, but 32 GB Fibre Channel over NVMe is going to be needed as speed becomes more important," Kerravela said. "This is a small form factor switch that is NVMe-ready. You can buy 24 ports and turn on as few as eight ports. You can run it at 16 Gbps and run another part of your network at 32 Gbps."

The new Brocade FC switch is an indication of how the vendor is banking on NVMe giving new life to FC.

"The next wave of innovation will come when NVMe becomes networked," Shimomura said. "There is a lot of noise about different networking technologies, but we think Fibre Channel customers would prefer to leverage their existing switch investments."

With VM Insight, Brocade thinks outside the box

Brocade's Fabric Vision provides continuous health monitoring and diagnostics of fabric switches across a data center. The VM Insight tool allows an administrator to isolate a specific hypervisor that is causing a performance bottleneck.

Details include the type of traffic being generated by each VM and granular ability to automate policies such as quality of service and load balancing. Open standards tagging is used to identify and track a VM as moves between networks and storage. 

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