Brocade’s plan to drive the On-Demand Data Center

Jason Nolet,
Vice President, Data Center Networking Group

NEW ORLEANS — The On-Demand Data Center and Software Defined Networking are hot concepts today, with many vendors trying to define a role for themselves there. Brocade faces competition from vendors who are considerably larger, several of whom have a strong converged data center presence. Despite this, Brocade believes it is well positioned to have an impact as these markets develop.

“The On-Demand Data Center is not unique to us, but it is all about interconnecting all resources within and between data centers — on prem and off-prem  – and we provide the interconnect to make that happen,”  Jason Nolet, Vice President, Data Center Networking Group, told Brocade partners at the Brocade Think Forward 2013 Partner Summit here.

Nolet said Brocade has four strategic focus areas in this strategy. First is continued commitment to Fibre Channel Fabrics.

“We remain committed to Fibre Channel, because we have found that customers have little interest in FCoE [Fibre Channel over Ethernet] on an end-to-end basis,” Nolet said. “We will continue to innovate and lead on Fibre Channel. Some people have dismissed it, but it is a very sticky technology, which we grew at 10% last year. Customers want us to continue to invest in it. Recently, Cisco came out with brand new Fibre Channel-only product line, and they had pushed FCoE hardest. They would have wanted to put a bullet in Fibre Channel.”

The second focus area is Ethernet Fabrics.

“Native automation of the Fabric had not been a priority for incumbents, which gives us a huge advantage,” Nolet said. “With our Ethernet fabric offering, you give the switches a name, plug in a physical cable and you are done.” And unlike legacy systems, the Ethernet Fabric is VM-aware, to facilitate VM/network interoperability.

“Traditional LAN environments were never designed for virtualization or the Cloud, which gives a great opportunity to build data center environments optimized for these,” he added.

“The leverage of the Fiber Channel space helped us, particularly the ability to learning typology through  neighbors,” Nolet said. “It gave us a chance to get to market quickly with very proven technology. Some people say this is a 1.0 technology, but it’s from the Fibre Channel, so there is a lot of maturity built into the product line.”

The third area of investment is Core IP routing. All links in the Fabric are active with Layer 1,2 and 3 multi-pathing at the multiple layers. Level 1, featuring technology lifted from the Fibre Channel side, employs  trunking with frame striping to provide what Brocade says is near perfect load balancing across all links in a trunk group. Level 2 has Equal Cost Multi Pathing, where all links are utilized with flow-based load balancing. And Level 3 features Fabric load balancing across multiple gateways for improved scalability and resiliency.

“We can leverage our unique combination of multi-pathing and load balancing,” Nolet said.

The fourth focus area is Software Defined Networking, which everyone is pursuing, but where Brocade thinks it has an advantage.

“This is a point of potential disruption which we are looking to take advantage of where it makes sense,” Nolet said.

Brocade’s SDN strategy falls into three buckets. The first, network virtualization, takes two forms,  building on top of the physical network the same way a hypervisor builds on top of a server, and secondly, with services in the data center, like load balancing, now being virtualized.

“There are considerable  savings running these as software, with hardware used only in areas where high  performance is required,” Nolet said.

The second area is programmatic control, introducing APIs to influence network behavior and utilizing technologies like Open Flow.

“You can adjust things in the data plane that only networking vendors could adjust before,” Nolet said.

The third component here is Cloud orchestration,  having a Cloud management platform that simplifies and uplevels provisioning,  to spin up a virtual datacenter.

“There will always be a physical networking layer, and our Ethenet Fabric is the right one on which to build an SDN model,” Nolet said. “On top of that are the virtualization and application layers.” And a Cloud Management layer, featuring OpenStack, VMware, vCloud Suite, and RESTful device APIs is above them.

”Our Virtualization Layer  is a combination of native functionality we will deliver in the Fabric itself and optionally a partner play for us, with VMware and the Open Daylight consortium” [the latter being an open source version of Nicera to prevent a VMware monopoly following their acquisition of Nicera]. “We will ship product by the end of the year to enable some of that,” Nolet said.

The Application Layer, enabled by SDN controller-based applications, is what Nolet called the most  interesting layer in this whole mix.

“The SDN controller manages the virtual network and provides northbound APIs for an application to manipulate the  behavior of the network,” he said. “The question is who will write them. It will likely be an ecosystem that provides applications for specific use cases like policy-based routing in the enterprise, but who those application providers  are — how much is done in house by customers, and how much is done by vendors , the jury is out on that. But it’s opening up what has been a closed environment. That’s  going to be the exciting part of the SDN.”

For Brocade’s channel partners, Nolet said the most exciting part is they can set themselves apart from other resellers offering data center solutions.

“We give the channel the ability to differentiate with Brocade VCS compared to traditional data center offerings,” he said.

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