Brocade was the second vendor up on day 2 of Network Field Day 2. We arrived at the resplendant Brocade offices and were immediately ushered in for lunch. A side note here: Brocade had the best lunch ever. No sandwiches and chips. Chicken Parmesan, salad, and pasta were the meal du jour. After feeding us, Brocade then proceeded to whet our appetite by hinting that there would be some time later for a competition.
Once we got underway, we got a quick intro from <<MARKETING PERSON>> followed by a great short presentation from Jon Hudson, also known as @the_socalist. He went into a quick overview of the Brocade line of products, touching on everything from wiring closet switches to massive fibre channel encryption boxes. He kept it short and light by playing to our strengths. As it has been noted before, presenting to Tech Field Day delegates is a very unique experience. Jon peppered his presentation with pictures of unicorns (the mascot of Networking Field Day) and talk of long-distance vMotion issues that could one day lead to roving packs of VM clusters vMotioning across the world and even into space. Good laughs were had all around. Overall, Brocade has some good products that they aim into the middle of the switching pack, but their real capability is their extensive fibre channel knowledge and how to integrate that in your environment. Their VCS take on fabric is equally interesting.
Afterwards, we were informed that we were going to have a lab. Not a demo, not a video. A hands-on configuration lab. We were broken up into teams and given the task of configuring a pair of Brocade 6720s into a fabric configuration. We had the disposal of the assembled Brocade engineers for assitance with configuration, as well as for escort to the data center down the hall where we had to (GASP!) plug in our own fiber jumpers. Just before the lab kicked off, the moderator Marcus Thordal informed us that they usually saw some sabotage occuring after a team completed their configuration tasks. Once we started, Jeff Fry and I teamed up to start building fabric. As Jeff prepped the fiber cables, I quickly assigned a management address to the switch. My previous familiarty with the Brocade CLI came in handy, and I finally got to show off my Brocade Certified Network Engineer (BCNE) skills. Jeff commented that the CLI seemed very IOS-like, which I’m almost certain is no coincidence.
When it came time to go back to the data center and start cabling, the competition really started to heat up. Tony Mattke and Greg Ferro sat next to us in a team, and as we plugged our fiber jumpers in to cross-connect switches and fire up servers, Tony slipped in behind us to do the same. When I got back to the terminal to verifiy the fabric connections, the VMware host wasn’t pingable. I did some quick troubleshooting and found that it had simply disappeared. When I looked over, Tony was giggling like a schoolgirl, which told me he decided to play dirty. I walked back to the data center and checked our cables. I quickly discovered that the server fiber jumper was slightly unplugged, just enough to break the connection but not enough to be dangling there and give away the treachery. When I got back, I glared at Tony and Greg, sure that I would find a way to repay them in kind. As soon as I sat down, Tony and Greg both jumped up to repatch cables in the data center, sure I had sabotaged them. I decided to play different game, so I used the basic configuration given to the delegates and figured out the switch IP for Tony and Greg. I then telnetted in and used the default password to log on, at which point I rebooted the switch. The 6720s took a few minutes to come back up, at which point I could configure in peace. Greg and Tony came back as Jeff and I were vMotioning our host across the fabric to test resiliency. Greg took a minute to figure out that his switch wasn’t at the CLI prompt, but was instead running ASIC checks. He looked over at me, but my smile was just too hard to contain. As he plotted more revenge, Jeff turned it up a notch by suggesting I change the login info for Team Five’s switch and reboot once again. While they were distracted, I changed the ADMIN user password to “gregisatosser” and rebooted after saving the config. As the switch was coming back up, the Brocade engineers in the back were having a great time with our efforts to sabotage each other. I took special delight in telling Greg the new password to his switch.
Once we finished our configuration lab, the Brocade people used the remaining time to answer Q&A about their product and direction in areas like TRILL and FCoE. I was especially impressed by Jon Hudson as he was able to spar with Ivan Pepelnjak about many different TRILL ideas, while at the same time withering an assualt from Ivan and Tony Bourke about fiber channel. He recalled many things off the top of his head, but he was also not afraid to say “I don’t know” when faced with a unique take on a problem. That always impresses me when a presenter is willing to go under the gun on Q&A and ever more so when they admit that they don’t know something. As I overhead him say afterwards, Jon remarked, “There’s no sense in lying. If I don’t know, I don’t know. Lying about it never leads to anything good.
Here’s a video of Jon’s introduction to Brocade:
I liked Brocade’s presentation. The slide deck was short and funny, but the real gem was the hands-on lab. While many a Tech Field Day presentation has been saved by a great demo, there’s just something about getting your hands dirty on real hardware. We learned how Brocade implemented things that we do in our everyday jobs, as well as a couple of things that are unique to them. I really helps us decide how worthwhile their equipment might be to our environment. In fact, I’d wager to say that they moved into some serious consideration among one or two delegates for ease of use and features simply because we had a chance to take it for a test drive. Future Tech Field Day presenters take note: getting the delegates involved is never a bad idea.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Brocade was a sponsor of Network Field Day 2, as as such was responsible for paying a portion of my travel and lodging fees. They also provided us with lunch and a takeaway bag containing a USB drive with the presentation, chocolate covered espresso beans, and a VCS T-shirt in 2XL. At no time did Brocade ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the drafting of this review. The analysis and opinions herein are mine and mine alone.