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Brocade weaves road map to intelligent fabrics

Brocade's recent move to acquire Rhapsody Networks, a maker of intelligent switching platforms, could potentially mark the beginning of a major new stage in the evolution of SANs, according to industry observers.

Recently Brocade Communications Systems, one of the leading suppliers of Storage Area Fabric switches and SAN management software, released news that it has reached agreement to acquire Rhapsody Networks. Rhapsody specialises in providing intelligent switching platforms.

The move is extremely interesting and could potentially mark the beginning of a major new stage in the evolution of SANs. Brocade currently holds a leading position in the supply of fabric switches in a significant section of the market. However, McData recently launched a range of 16- and 32-port, low cost switches to announce its attempt to move into Brocade's home turf.

If Brocade can succeed in combining technologies held by Rhapsody with its own the results could be very interesting indeed. Rhapsody's technology supplies software vendors with the ability to host their applications in the fabric itself rather than on application servers connected to the SAN fabrics.

The potential impact of this approach should not be underestimated. The combination of Brocade and Rhapsody should allow a new generation of storage management functionality to be built into the core SAN fabric. Potential areas for exploitation include fabric based volume management, data replication and other tools to help simplify the task of managing complex, and increasingly business critical, SAN systems. It is clear that tools addressing the intricate area of SAN security could find a suitable home within such intelligent fabric switches.

Brocade has made it clear that it does not expect to be providing the applications but that OEM's will provide these new capabilities. With Rhapsody supporting several protocols, including Fibre Channel and IP, and the availability of an open API, Brocade has the potential to lead the way in the management of networked storage. The Rhapsody API will be integrated with Brocade's own fabric access API over the course of time.

It will be fascinating to see how quickly the software houses move to support this platform and in which areas the developments will be seen first. Brocade estimates that the end of 2003 should witness the commercial release of the first applications.

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