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Director-class SAN switch product guide with Brocade, Cisco Systems specs

A director-class SAN switch is designed primarily to fulfill the role of core switch in a core-edge Fibre Channel (FC) SAN topology. Because they sit at the centre of a fabric, director-class switches are built to be modular, more scalable, perform better and be more resilient than the fixed-port storage switches that sit at the edge of the fabric and connect directly to servers.

Compared with fixed switches, director switches have a larger number of ports; support more protocols and interfaces; have built-in redundancy with non-disruptive upgrades of everything from power supplies to processors; and often sport intelligent features, such as security and application support.

Director-class switches are also suitable to link SAN islands because of their high bandwidth and throughput capabilities.

Those same high-throughput and port count attributes also mean director-class switches are well-equipped to connect backup networks to backup storage media, such as tape libraries or disk arrays.

Key director-class SAN switch product attributes

Port count: Director-class switches come with a port count that is scalable from as few as 12 or 24 ports to as many as 528 ports in a single device.

Packing more ports into line cards creates the possibility of port oversubscription. Oversubscription occurs when a port with, for example, a nominal speed of 4 Gbps can't achieve that wire rate on the backplane. Administrators will often oversubscribe when it's unlikely that the switch will need all of the available bandwidth at the same time. But that requires careful planning for high port-count line cards when running demanding processes.

Line card options: The number of slots and port counts among Fibre Channel directors varies. The desire for lower per-port prices has driven vendors to offer line cards with increased port counts. The higher the port count, the more potential there is for backplane bottlenecks, though they're unlikely because few environments reach the potential throughput of director-class switches.

More on director-class SAN switches
SAN switch market: Director-class switches help fabrics grow

Director-class SAN switch benefits: Scalability and reliability for SAN fabrics

Even so, when specifying line card port counts, make sure you understand the applications and processes -- such as backup and replication -- that may need high throughput on a particular channel. Instead of having to specify low port count cards that you must reserve for these processes, you may be able to restrict the type of traffic going through ports in a given period by using port buffer credits and inter-switch link (ISL) aggregation features.

Distance replication: Directors use port buffer credits to arbitrate Fibre Channel frames so that traffic flows efficiently across long distances. The size of the buffer credit each Fibre Channel port requires is governed by the amount of data going through the port, the port speed, the distance between them and whether devices on the WAN provide extra buffering.

Default port buffer settings on most director-class switches will work well enough without configuration, but you may need to configure those on ports reserved for long-distance replication. Vendors allow administrators to choose how buffer credits are configured and allocated between ports.

FCoE: Brocade and Cisco Systems, the only two vendors in the director-class SAN switch market, support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), but each vendor has its own strategy around FCoE adoption. FCoE uses Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) based on Data Centre Bridging (DCB) standards as the physical transport that delivers Fibre Channel payloads.

Cisco Systems was the first to offer pre-standard FCoE in its products, but FCOE and DCB support won't be available in the firm's MDS 9500 directors and Nexus 7000 Series switches until the standard is ratified, a stance that is similar to Brocade's plans.

Brocade supports pre-standard FCoE and CEE/DCB in its Brocade 8000 switch and in the FCoE 10-24 blade switch that fits into the company's DCX Backbone.

Director-class SAN switch vendors: Key differences

Brocade and Cisco Systems have a duopoly in the director-class SAN switch market following years of vendor consolidation.

Both companies offer director switches aimed at enterprise environments and devices suited to midsized networks, varying them by form factor and number of line card slots to suit each situation.

Brocade offers local switching in its DCX Backbone products, which reduces the amount of traffic that passes through the core. Cisco Systems has now incorporated the capability into its latest Nexus devices but not into its MDS 9500 FC director.

Brocade wins in the throughput stakes with a maximum of 256 Gbps per slot compared with Cisco Systems 96 Gbps.

Customers will need to consider the likely differences in SAN design needed for each vendor's director-class SAN switch products. Cisco System MDS customers will likely need to manage oversubscription and traffic prioritization, while Brocade DCX Backbone devices will require attention to issues concerned with latency variation between ports on the same chassis.

Director-class SAN switch product guide

Brocade DCX Backbone
Ports per domain/port speed(s): Single chassis: Up to 384 (Brocade DCX) or 192 (Brocade DCX-4S) 8 Gbps universal (E, F, FL, M, EX) Fibre Channel ports using up to eight 16-, 32- or 48-port Fibre Channel blades. Dual-chassis: Up to 768 (Brocade DCX) or 384 (Brocade DCX-4S) 8 Gbps universal Fibre Channel ports; ICL ports (four per chassis, copper pin) connect up to three Brocade DCX or Brocade DCX-4S chassis (same models or a mix).
Performance: Fibre Channel: 1.063 Gbps line speed, full duplex; 2.125 Gbps line speed, full duplex; 4.25 Gbps line speed, full duplex; 8.5 Gbps line speed, full duplex; auto sensing of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 8 Gbps port speeds; optionally programmable 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 8 Gbps ports; 10.5 Gbps line speed, full duplex.
CEE: 10 Gbps line speed, full duplex.
Latency: Locally switched ports 700 nanoseconds; blade-to-blade latency is 2.1 microseconds.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F (inter-switch frames).
Management software: HTTP, SNMP Version 1 and 3 (FE MIB, FC Management MIB), Telnet; auditing, syslog; Brocade Advanced Web Tools, Brocade Fabric Watch; Brocade Data Center Fabric Manager (DCFM) Enterprise (Brocade DCX, DCX-4S) or DCFM Professional/Professional Plus (Brocade DCX-4S only), Brocade Fabric Manager (optional, Brocade Fabric OS environments only), Brocade EFCM 9.x (optional), command line interface (CLI); SMI-S-compliant; Administrative Domains; trial licenses for add-on capabilities.
Fabric services: Advanced Performance Monitoring (including Top Talkers); Adaptive Networking (Ingress Rate Limiting), Traffic Isolation, QoS; buffer-to-buffer credit recovery; Bottleneck Detection; Brocade Advanced Zoning (default zoning, port/WWN zoning, broadcast zoning); Dynamic Path Selection (DPS); Extended Fabrics; Fabric Watch; Fabric Device Management Interface (FDMI); Frame Redirection; FSPF; Integrated Routing; Internet Protocol over Fibre Channel (IPFC); ISL Trunking; Management Server; N_Port Trunking; NPIV; NTP v3; Port Fencing; Registered State Change Notification (RSCN); Reliable Commit Service (RCS); Simple Name Server (SNS); Virtual Fabrics (Logical Switch, Logical Fabric).
Protocol support: FCP, Fibre Connection (FICON), Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), Ethernet, FCoE, CEE.
Application support: Not provided.
Security: DH-CHAP (between switches and end devices), FIPS 140-2 L2-compliant, HTTPS, IPsec, IP filtering, LDAP, Port Binding, RADIUS, Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), Secure Copy (SCP), Secure RPC, Secure Shell (SSH) Version 2, SSL, Switch Binding, Trusted Switch.
Scalability: Full-fabric architecture of 239 switches; 6,000 ports in a fabric.
Interoperability: See the Brocade compatibility page.
Availability: Available now.
Base cost: Not provided.

Brocade 48000 Director
Ports per domain/port speed(s): 384 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps or 8 Gbps ports per domain. 2,560 ports per fabric.
Single Brocade FOS fabric: 56 domains, 19 hops, 6,000 ports.
Single Brocade M-Enterprise OS fabric: 31 domains, three hops.
Larger fabrics certified as required; consult Brocade or OEM SAN design documents for configuration details.
1.063 Gbps line speed, full duplex; 2.125 Gbps line speed, full duplex; 4.25 Gbps line speed, full duplex; auto-sensing of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps port speeds; optionally programmable to fixed port speed; speed-matching between 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps ports and between 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 8 Gbps ports; 10.5 Gbps line speed, full duplex, fixed port speed.
Performance: Delivers 4 Gbps and 8 Gbps Fibre Channel and FICON connectivity to SANs; supports 10 Gbps inter-chassis (ISL) connections.
Latency: Less than 2.1 microseconds any port to any port at 2 Gbps, cut-through routing; less than 3.6 microseconds any port to any port at 4 Gbps, cut-through routing; less than 7.4 microseconds any port to any port at 10 Gbps, cut-through routing.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F (inter-switch frames).
Management software: Fabric Manager; EFCM; Telnet; SNMP (FE MIB, FC Management MIB); FICON/CUP on FC 4 Gbps and FC 8 Gbps (16- and 32-port) blades, Web Tools; third-party applications utilising the Brocade SMI Agent.
Fabric services: Adaptive Networking Services: traffic isolation, ingress rate limiting (for FC 8 Gbps blades only); Simple Name Server; Registered State Change Notification (RSCN); Alias Server (multicast); Brocade Advanced Zoning, Web Tools, Fabric Watch, Extended Fabrics, ISL Trunking, DPS and Advanced Performance Monitoring.
Protocol support: FCP, FICON, iSCSI, FCIP, Ethernet, FCoE, CEE.
Application support: EMC Invista and RecoverPoint.
Security: DH-CHAP (between switches and end devices), FIPS 140-2 L2-compliant, HTTPS, IPsec, IP filtering, LDAP, Port Binding, RADIUS, RBAC, SCP, Secure RPC, SSH Version 2, SSL, Switch Binding, Trusted Switch.
Scalability: Full fabric architecture of 239 switches maximum.
Interoperability: See Brocade compatibility page.
Availability: Available now.
Base cost: Not provided.

Cisco MDS 9506 Multilayer Director
Ports per domain: 192 ports (maximum) per chassis -- scalable from 12 to 192 ports; 12 to 192 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps or 4 Gbps Fibre Channel ports; four to 16 10 Gbps Fibre Channel ports; four to 24 1 Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Port speed(s): Line rate port speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps Fibre Channel.
Performance: Line rate throughput at 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps. Depending upon the line card, Cisco MDS 9506 also supports oversubscription.
Latency: 5 microseconds for 50 byte packets.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F.
Management software: Cisco MDS 9000 family CLI, Cisco Fabric Manager and Device Manager and Cisco Fabric Manager Server (optional; requires Cisco Fabric Manager Server license). See details on the Cisco Fabric Manager product page.
Fabric services: In addition to standard FC services like zoning, name services and login services, the MDS 9000 provides advanced intelligent services, including a virtual SAN (VSAN), intelligent frame processing for ACL list, Fibre Channel Congestion Control (FCC), performance monitoring, ISL trunking, security services and network-based services (virtualisation, Cisco SANTap and serverless backup).
Protocol support: The Cisco MDS 9506 transparently integrates Fibre Channel, IBM FICON, iSCSI and FCIP in one system.
Application support: Data centre SAN consolidation, business continuity, centralised SAN management, advanced SAN security for compliance and regulation, centralised backup, recovery and archive through intelligent fabric applications, storage virtualisation, serverless backup and CDP using Cisco SANTap.
Security: Supports RADIUS and TACACS+, Fibre Channel Security Protocol (FC-SP), Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), SSH Protocol and SNMP Version 3, Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), VSANs, hardware-enforced zoning, ACLs and per-VSAN role-based access control.
Scalability: Cisco states it has tested 26 to 50 switches in a single SAN but claims it can support thousands of switches in a SAN because of VSAN.
Interoperability: The MDS 9000 family of multilayer directors and fabric switches supports various types of interoperability modes.
Availability: Currently available.
Base cost: An estimated base starting price would be $77,000.

Cisco MDS 9509 Multilayer Director
Ports per domain: 336 ports (maximum) per chassis -- scalable from 12 to 336 ports; 12 to 336 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps auto-sensing Fibre Channel ports; four to 28 10 Gbps Fibre Channel ports; four to 48 1 Gbps Ethernet ports.
Port speed(s): Line rate port speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps Fibre Channel Performance: Line rate throughput at 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps. Depending upon the line card, the Cisco MDS 9509 also supports oversubscription.
Latency: 5 microseconds for 50 byte packets.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F.
Management software: Cisco MDS 9000 family CLI, Cisco Fabric Manager and Device Manager and Cisco Fabric Manager Server (optional; requires Cisco Fabric Manager Server license). See details at Cisco Fabric Manager product page.
Fabric services: In addition to standard FC services like zoning, name services and login services, the MDS 9000 provides advanced intelligent services, including VSAN, intelligent frame processing for ACL list, FCC, performance monitoring, ISL trunking, security services and network-based services (e.g., virtualisation, Cisco SANTap and serverless backup).
Protocol support: The Cisco MDS 9000 transparently integrates Fibre Channel, IBM FICON, iSCSI and FCIP in one system.
Application support: Data centre SAN consolidation, business continuity, centralised SAN management, advanced SAN security for compliance and regulation, centralised backup, recovery and archive through intelligent fabric applications, storage virtualisation, serverless backup and CDP using Cisco SANTap.
Security: Supports RADIUS and TACACS+, FC-SP, SFTP, SSH Protocol and SNMP Version 3, AES, VSANs, hardware-enforced zoning, ACLs and per-VSAN role-based access control.
Scalability: The company has tested 26 to 50 switches in one SAN but claims it can support thousands of switches via its VSAN capability.
Interoperability: The MDS 9000 family of multilayer directors and fabric switches supports various types of interoperability modes.
Availability: Currently available.
Base cost: An estimated base starting price would be $85,000.

Cisco MDS 9513 Multilayer Director
Ports per domain: 528 ports (maximum) per chassis -- scalable from 12 to 528; 12 to 528 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps Fibre Channel ports; four to 44 10 Gbps Fibre Channel ports; four to 60 1 Gbps Ethernet ports.
Port speed(s): Line rate port speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps Fibre Channel.
Performance: Line rate throughput at 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps. Depending upon the line card, Cisco MDS 9513 also supports oversubscription.
Latency: 5 microseconds for 50 byte packets.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F.
Management software: Cisco MDS 9000 family CLI, Cisco Fabric Manager and Device Manager and Cisco Fabric Manager Server (optional; requires Cisco Fabric Manager Server license). See details on the Cisco Fabric Manager product page.
Fabric services: Apart from the standard FC services like zoning, name services and login services, MDS 9000 provides advanced intelligent services, including VSAN, intelligent frame processing for ACL list, FCC, performance monitoring, ISL trunking, security services and network-based services (e.g., virtualisation, Cisco SANTap and serverless backup).
Protocol support: The Cisco MDS 9513 transparently integrates Fibre Channel, IBM FICON, iSCSI and FCIP in one system.
Application support: Data centre SAN consolidation, business continuity, centralised SAN management, advanced SAN security for compliance and regulation, centralised backup, recovery and archive through intelligent fabric applications, storage virtualisation, serverless backup and CDP using Cisco SANTap.
Security: Supports RADIUS and TACACS+, FC-SP, SFTP, SSH Protocol and SNMP Version 3, AES, VSANs, hardware-enforced zoning, ACLs and per-VSAN role-based access control.
Scalability: The company has tested 26 to 50 switches in one SAN, but claims it can support thousands of switches via its VSAN capability.
Interoperability: The MDS 9000 family of multilayer directors and fabric switches supports various types of interoperability modes.
Availability: Currently available.
Base cost: An estimated base starting price would be $100,000.

Cisco Systems MDS 9124 Multilayer Fabric Switch
Ports per domain: 24 ports (maximum) per chassis -- scalable from eight to 24 ports on demand.
Port speed(s): Line rate port speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps Fibre Channel.
Performance: Line rate performance at 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps speeds
Latency: 1.1 microseconds
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F.
Management software: The Cisco MDS 9124 includes built-in storage network management, with all features available through a CLI or Cisco Fabric Manager, a centralized management tool with task-based wizards that simplify management of a standalone switch or multiple switches and fabrics.
Fabric services: In addition to FC services like zoning, name services and login services, the MDS 9000 provides advanced intelligent services, including VSAN, intelligent frame processing for ACL list, FCC, performance monitoring, ISL trunking and security services. The Cisco MDS 9124 supports quick configuration and task wizards that allow it to be deployed quickly and easily in networks of any size.
Protocol support: Fibre Channel.
Application support: SMB SAN consolidation, LAN-free backup, replication, business continuity, enterprise core-edge design.
Security: The Cisco MDS 9124 supports RADIUS and TACACS+, port security, fabric binding, FC-SP host-to-switch and switch-to-switch authentication, SFTP, SSH Version 2 and SNMP Version 3 implementing AES, VSANs, hardware-enforced zoning, broadcast zones and per-VSAN RBAC.
Scalability: The company has tested 26 to 50 switches in one SAN, but claims it can support thousands of switches via its VSAN capability.
Interoperability: The MDS 9000 family of multilayer directors and fabric switches supports various types of interoperability modes.
Availability: Currently available.
Base cost: An estimated base starting price would be $5,000 to $5,500 for eight ports activated on the switch, and $7,000 to $8,000 for 16 ports activated on the switch.

Cisco MDS 9134 Multilayer Fabric Switch
Ports per domain: 32 ports (maximum) per chassis -- scalable from 24 to 32 ports.
Port speed(s): Line rate port speeds of 4 Gbps and 10 Gbps.
Performance: Line rate performance at 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps speeds.
Latency: 1.1 microseconds.
Classes of service: Class 2, Class 3, Class F.
Management software: The Cisco MDS 9134 provides four principal modes of management: the Cisco MDS 9000 family CLI, the Quick Configuration Wizard, the Cisco Fabric Manager and integration with third-party storage management tools.
Fabric services: Cisco Fabric Manager is included with the Cisco MDS 9134 for integrated, comprehensive management of larger SAN environments. Cisco Fabric Manager is a Java application that allows administrators to perform tasks such as topology discovery, fabric configuration and verification, provisioning, monitoring and fault resolution.
Protocol support: Fibre Channel.
Application support: Cisco MDS 9000 family CLI, Quick Configuration Wizard, Cisco Fabric Manager and Device Manager, Cisco FabricManager Server (optional; requires Cisco Fabric Manager Server license).
Security: The Cisco MDS 9134 supports VSANs, hardware-enforced zoning, LUN zoning and read-only zones; FC-SP for host-to-switch and switch-to-switch authentication; port security; and management access (SSH Version 2, SNMP Version 3 and IP ACLs).
Scalability: The Cisco MDS 9134 offers up to 32 autosensing Fibre Channel ports capable of speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps and 4 Gbps, and two 10 Gbps ports in a 1U form-factor chassis with 4 Gbps of dedicated bandwidth for each port and an aggregate platform bandwidth of 352 Gbps. The base configuration has 24 active ports with the flexibility to upgrade onsite to 32 ports in eight-port increments with Cisco MDS 9134 On-Demand Port Activation Licensing.
Interoperability: The MDS 9000 family of multilayer directors and fabric switches supports various types of interoperability modes.
Availability: Currently available.
Base cost: An estimated starting price would be $14,000 for 32 ports activated on the switch.

This was first published in April 2010

 

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