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Brocade gives a push to campus switch automation

Brocade is improving its campus networking portfolio with switch automation software, a new line of hardware and additional support for open standard technology.

Brocade plans to release at the end of the year software that provides additional automation to the company's newer line of campus switches.

The forthcoming release of Switch Port Extender, along with the introduction this week of a family of ICX switches and support for open standards normally associated with software-defined data centers, are a continuation of Brocade's goal to simplify campus networking.

The Brocade software will compete with Cisco's Catalyst Instant Access. Both products automate administration tasks, such as firmware upgrades, across core, aggregation and edge switches found in a campus network.

Expanding switch automation to simplify network management is an ongoing trend among infrastructure vendors, Mike Fratto, analyst for Current Analysis said. Manual chores that were once handled through software now include adding new devices to a network or making adjustments to maintain a desired level of service.

Brocade plans to roll out the technology as a firmware update to its ICX 7750 and 7450 switches. Brocade said it will add Port Extender support to its new ICX 7250 family of switches in 2016.

Brocade limiting new features to ICX line of switches

Only the ICX line will get the update, so customers with other models are out of luck, Fratto said. "The opportunity [for Brocade] is with new customers, and existing ones going through a hardware refresh."

Leaving some customers waiting until they upgrade their switches may not be too damaging to Brocade, given its small share of the market, Fratto said.

In 2014, Brocade had less than 2% of the global switch market, according to IDC. Cisco accounts for about 65% with all other vendors having only a single-digit share.

The company's latest announcements included extending support of OpenFlow 1.3 to the ICX 7450 and 7750 switches. The ICX 7250 also supports the open standard technology used by servers to tell network switches where to send data packets. The ICX product portfolio provides Layer 2 and 3 network services.

While OpenFlow is mostly used in data centers, not campus networks, it's a protocol often found on companies' checklist when buying switches, experts say.

Penetrating the walled garden of Cisco

To compete against Cisco, Brocade, Hewelett-Packard, Juniper Networks and Dell are embracing open standards related to software-defined networking (SDN) in the data center. Rivals see Cisco's hardware-centric approach to SDN as a weakness.

"Whatever they do is proprietary and designed to create a walled garden," said Siva Valliappan, head of Brocade's campus business line.

Brocade sells its Vyatta controller as the control plane for a network. The company's hardware, however, will support any controller based on an open standard called OpenDaylight.

The ICX 7250 is what Brocade calls an "entry-level" switch, because it lacks the high-performance features of the more expensive hardware in the product line. Pricing for the 7250 ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, which is within the budget of organizations like school districts, Valliappan said.

The switch is available with 24 or 48 1 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports. A dozen switches can be stacked in a single chassis for a maximum of 576 ports. The 7250 also has eight 10 GbE ports that can be used for stacking or uplinks.

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