Brocade aims to dazzle with new cheaper switches

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Brocade aims to dazzle with new cheaper switches

Brocade Communications Systems has reduced the cost of storage area networks with two low-end Dazzler San switches.

The Silkworm 3250 is an 8-port switch and the 3850 is 16-port. Both are cheaper than their existing counterparts, the 3200 and 3800. Four Brocade suppliers: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Storage Technology and Sun Microsystems have all declared support for the switches.

The new 2gigabit/s switches are not only cheaper but can have their software upgraded on the fly and without disrupting data traffic. The 3250 will replace the 3200 but the 3800 continues in production as it has a hot-swappable power supply, which the 3850 does not.

It is thought that San adoption by smaller enterprises and those outside the mainstream enterprise area has been slowed by the high prices involved. "Western European San-attach rates have historically varied by price of the external storage array," said Eric Sheppard, research manager for IDC's European disc storage systems research.

"Low-end storage arrays have a San attach-rate that is less than a third of high-end arrays. IDC believes this gap will shrink over time as suppliers such as Brocade increase the availability of low-cost, easy-to-use San products."

The lower cost comes in part from a fourth-generation Brocade ASIC driving the switches. However, the cost reduction does not amount to that much, with HP talking about a 15% cost reduction compared to the 8 and 16-port switches it currently ships. HP has suggested a US entry-price of $5,000 (£2,690) for the 3250.

At $625 a port, plus the server host bus adapter and the back-end fibre channel disc controllers, it is not going to set enterprises of any size reaching for their cheque books without some serious thought.

Because standard Ethernet is used then iSCSI San storage promises to be much cheaper than fibre channel networks. Mark Delsman, Adaptec chief technology officer, said, "You can have a range of costs and options available to you with iSCSI, from software driver through a standard Ethernet NIC up to a hardware-accelerated host adapter. Not so with fibre channel where everything is in the ASIC."

The switches can be used as edge switches in an enterprise San and as normal switches in a workgroup, departmental or smaller enterprise storage network. If enterprises use them as edge switches, the additional features needed will drive the cost up to $15,000 for the 3250. Since enterprises typically double up on switches for redundancy, that is $30,000 and cost-reduction looks even thinner.

It is expected that Brocade will refresh its entire Silkworm family using the new ASIC. The move could prompt both Cisco Systems and McData to introduce 8-port switches and lower prices of their 16-port switches.

Chris Mellor writes for Techworld.com

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