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Brocade’s stackable switch: The low-cost alternative to Catalyst 3750?

With its new stackable switch, Brocade offers an alternative to Cisco’s Catalyst 3750 with plenty of bandwidth and features and a much lower price.

With a new stackable switch, Brocade is trying to strik a middle ground between the high-powered, feature-rich stackable switches offered by Cisco Systems and the low-cost commodity access switches that many enterprises rely on for cheap workgroup connections.

Customers can assemble Brocade’s new ICX 6610 series switches into a single stack of eight in the wiring closet with a total bandwidth of 320 Gbps and the ability to scale up to workgroups of 320 users connected via Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) links. This performance contrasts starkly with current stackable switches from Cisco and other vendors, which top out at 64 Gbps per stack.

The ICX 6610 comes in 24- and 48-port Gigabit Ethernet models (24 or 48 RJ-45 ports or 24 SFP ports) with or without Power over Ethernet (PoE) capabilities and with eight 10 GbE uplinks. The switches have a starting list price of $4,495.

“[The ICX 6610] is a hybrid. It’s kind of an access switch and kind of a performance switch,” said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research.

Much of the indusry has trended toward low-cost workgroup switches for wiring closets, leading to the popularity of $800 access switches to provide simple Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, said Kerravala. But for IT shops delivering services like video to the desktop, it's crucial to have advanced features at the edge, such as more granular Quality of Service (QoS) that can differentiate between business-critical and recreational video streams.

“If you’re doing things like voice over IP [VoIP], video conferencing and VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure], you can’t put just any old $800 switch in there,” he said.

Yet with the ICX 6610, enterprises don't have to spend the $8,000 it takes to buy a comparable Cisco Catalyst 3750.

“One of the things that they are positioning it for is not just as a high-ranked workgroup switch but also to take the place of a typical chassis in the midsized business core, or [to replace] a chassis in a larger remote enterprise location. In larger enterprises that do want high capacity at the edge, it’s a very similar product to the Catalyst 3750,” said Mark Fabbi, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner.  

Virtual chassis for stackable switches: Eliminating spanning tree

Brocade also announced a new 8-port 10 GbE blade for its FastIron SX (FSX) series of chassis switches, which the company is positioning as the aggregation and core element of an end-to-end campus network builtaround the ICX 6610 stackable switch. The new blades allow an engineer to scale up to 128 oversubscribed 10 GbE ports in a single chassis.

In addition, the company announced a new software feature, Multi-Chassis Trunking (MCT), which allows customers to configure and manage two FSX 800 or 1600 chassis as one logical device. With MCT, a company can combine two chassis into a high-availability pair that doubles overall capacity. MCT also allows engineers to eliminate spanning tree protocol in their campus network.

“It’s very similar to [HP’s Intelligent Resilient Framework] or Cisco’s VSS [Virtual Switching System] or [Virtual PortChannel] VPC,” Fabbi said. “It’s this multi-chassis technology that allows you to scale up to two boxes -- if not beyond -- depending on which vendor we’re contrasting. At the same time, it really simplifies operations.”

Here's how it eliminates spanning tree: “If you think of how organizations would have built a two-chassis core, you had to do dual-homing from the edge into the core, said Fabbi. “You had to designate one as a primary and one as a backup. You had to run spanning tree. It was an operational nightmare because of all the configurations. With the MCT, to the edge it looks like you’re going to one box, so operationally that eliminates spanning tree. Now you take advantage of the full bandwidth between the edge and core, and you eliminate 90% of the configuration work that you had to do in the past.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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