Storage Networks

Scott Shimomura

Cisco MDS: Technology Leader or Technology Laggard? Cisco Finally Launches Gen 5 Fibre Channel

by Scott Shimomura on ‎04-24-2013 06:49 AM - last edited on ‎10-28-2013 01:32 PM by bcm1 (3,849 Views)

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How committed is Cisco to its MDS line of Fibre Channel directors and switches? In my previous blog, I summarized Cisco’soscillating storage networking strategy between iSCSI, Fibre Channel, InfiniBand, and FCoE. Cisco has been pushing their FCoE agenda through Nexus and UCS, but has finally joined the Gen 5 Fibre Channel party nearly two years after Brocade. So they keep coming back to Fibre Channel, but can Cisco be trusted to deliver credible Fibre Channel solutions?


We initially launched our Gen 5 Fibre Channel portfolio with directors (8- and 4-slot), a fixed-port switch (48-port switch), and adapters (single and dual port AnyIO Fabric Adapters). Since then, we have enhanced the portfolio with additional fixed-port switches (96- and 24-port switches) and embedded switches for blade servers (IBM, Dell, and more to come). More important, we launched a variety of new capabilities designed to improve availability, scalability, and manageability of the SAN fabric, including  BrocadeFabric Vision technology with ClearLink diagnostic ports, MAPS, and Flow Vision, UltraScale inter-chassis links, and new health and performance dashboards.


In the two years since our launch, what has Cisco done to advance the technology beyond speeds and feeds? My observation and analysis of their launch is that the products announced (Cisco MDS 9710 Director and MDS 9250i Storage Services Switch) are largely a hardware speed bump with little innovation.


From a hardware perspective, it’s a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t provide much flexibility for customers: one chassis; one Fibre Channel line card; and one multi-service switch (SAN extension, migration, and encryption). The one glaring hole is the lack of a dedicated fixed-port Fibre Channel switch.


What about new innovative functionality? For the MDS 9710 directors, the messaging is focused on 16 Gbps (speed), bandwidth (feed), N+1 fabric module availability (more hardware), multiprotocol (they couldn’t resist going back to FCoE), and investment protection (a veiled feed statement since it’s based on bandwidth).

 

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Looking at some of the claims in more detail:

 

Cisco’s Claim Brocade Fact
N+1 fabric redundancy delivers industry’s first 100% reliable SAN fabric

It’s an irrelevant feature. Availability of the entire chassis depends on all the components, not just the fabric modules.  Availability is proven over time, not on paper. Brocade DCX 8510 is proven in the data center with full redundancy and more than five nines availability.

3X the performance of any director

The Cisco MDS 9710 (ports+slot) and Brocade DCX 8510 (ports+UltraScale ICLs+slot) have identical usable bandwidth. The MDS 9710 has an additional 6.1 Tbps of slot bandwidth sitting idle, and not usable. The difference is Brocade allocates a portion of the internal switching bandwidth for UltraScale ICLs which provides more scalability and port density for an equal number of chassis.

50% more line rate ports

Brocade DCX 8510 provides an identical number of line rate ports (384 16 Gbps ports) with local switching. Local switching provides the lowest latency for directors.

Protect SAN and end devices from corrupted frames via store and forward

Brocade’s cut-through switching architecture drives lower switch latency without introducing any data integrity risks. It’s supported by Fibre Channel standards and proven in tens of millions ofdeployed ports worldwide.

Fork-lift free upgrades

The MDS 9710 chassis is not compatible with any previous generation blades, it’s a rip-out and replace. The original DCX chassis is upgradable to the DCX 8510.


With three straight quarters of taking share from Cisco, I like our position and direction. Customers want more from their infrastructure than speeds and feeds and Brocade has been listening and delivering innovative functionality that help them solve real business challenges.  Adoption of our Gen 5 Fibre Channel platforms continues to rise every quarter based on innovation like Fabric Vision technology, ClearLink diagnostics, and UltraScale ICLs. Cisco is worthy competitor. Their share gain in servers is impressive - their goal to take over the entire data center is ambitious. That said, it is clear that their commitment to Fibre Channel is half hearted, half baked and disingenuous.

 

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