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Brocade adds multi-tenancy to VCS Ethernet fabric, new ToR switches

Shamus McGillicuddy

Brocade has enabled native network multi-tenancy on its Virtual Cluster Switching Ethernet fabric, introduced 10/40 Gigabit Ethernet top-of-rack switches to its VDX portfolio, and automated storage traffic prioritization.

Brocade engineered native multi-tenancy through support of an extension to

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Transparent Interconnections of Lots of Links (TRILL), the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF) standard that enables multi-path forwarding in a Layer 2 network and eliminates the need for spanning tree. The extension, known as Fine-Grained Labeling (FGL), replaces 12-bit virtual local area network (VLAN) labeling in a TRILL-based Ethernet frame with 24-bit FGL labeling. FGL expands the number of network segments that a network engineer can create in a Layer 2 network from 4,000 to 16 million.

For now, the initial implementation of FGL will support just 8,000 segments, but Brocade said future releases will enable larger segmentation.

"It is a better way to sub-segment an existing Layer 2 fabric," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst with New York-based 451 Research. "It's better than VLANs. And with VXLAN [Virtual Extensible LAN], NVGRE [Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation] and STT, you're creating overlay mechanisms that step you out of Layer 2. [FGL] keeps all of that partitioning still running at Layer 2. In theory, you have better low-level control and performance."

The number of network segments in a Layer 2 network is a basic building block of a multi-tenant data center or cloud. Some vendors have tackled segmentation through overlay technologies like VMware NSX and tunneling protocols such as VXLAN and NVGRE. Brocade has embraced overlays with its support of VMware's NSX VXLAN termination endpoints on its VDX. However, not every IT organization is ready to embrace overlay products, which can blur the organizational lines between the network and server teams.

"In the future, those lines might blur, but [some of our customers] today prefer to have a solution that resides in [the network] domain," said Sanjib HomChaudhuri, principal director of product management and strategy at San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade Communications Systems Inc. "The networking guys want to manage and control the multi-tenancy solution."

FGL uses the same constructs as VLANs, which promises a gentle learning curve to network pros, HomChaudhuri said. Also, since the technology is network-based, FGL is hypervisor-agnostic, unlike most overlay products. The multi-tenancy feature will be available in January.

Meanwhile, Brocade launched the VDX 6740 series of 10/40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) top-of-rack switches for the VCS fabric. Brocade is selling both fiber optic and copper versions of the VDX 6740 at the outset. The new 1RU switch has 1.28 Tbps of bandwidth with 64 10 GbE ports and 4 40 GbE ports.

The VDX 6740 adds top-of-rack 10 GbE density to Brocade's VCS fabric, which will be essential to customers who start to migrate to 10 Gbps servers, Hanselman said.

The VDX 6740 is available now and has a starting list price of $15,995. Brocade also announced a 100 GbE line card for its VDX 8770 chassis, which will start shipping in the first half of 2014. Brocade has not offered a list price yet.

Finally, Brocade enhanced the AutoQoS feature of VCS to apply automatic Quality of Service policies to storage traffic that traverses the fabric. The upgrade means AutoQoS will now automatically detect and prioritize storage traffic.

"Out of the box, [VCS] is already set up to deal with [storage traffic]," Hanselman said. "Where there was a set of rules that you could use for QoS capabilities beforehand, this packages it together. It automatically figures out everything one needs to do to go out and prioritize storage traffic. Especially when you look at storage convergence, that's one of the biggest headaches enterprises face today."

Although Brocade's VCS multi-tenancy is based on the IETF's FGL specification, Brocade's overall implementation of TRILL remains proprietary, much like the Cisco FabricPath, the only other major TRILL-based Ethernet fabric on the market. This prevents interoperability, Hanselman said. While the data forwarding plane of VCS complies with IETF's TRILL specification, the control plane is proprietary. Hanselman would like to see that change, both for Brocade and other fabric vendors.

"I keep hoping there will be a move toward broader compatibility, but it's in very little -- if any -- of the players' interest to move toward some common TRILL base. Each has expanded their feature set beyond the TRILL standard, so there is little motivation to come to a standard fabric interconnect," Hanselman said.


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