When I was just a wee lad, my mom decided one year that she’d had enough of the mass produced Halloween costumes available at the local department store. I wanted to be a ninja (surprise, I know) and she was determined to make me the best ninja costume around. My mother knows how to sew, but she isn’t a seamstress by any stretch of the imagination. What she did do was go to the fabric store and pick up a package of Simplicity patterns. These are wonderful. They enable those of us without the gift of textile assembly to create something from fabric that can be astounding. Simplicity takes all the guesswork out of making a costume by giving you easy-to-follow directions. You don’t have to think about the process beyond a few cuts and some stitches. Instead, you can think about the applications of the final product, from ninja to Jedi to superhero.
You may be asking yourself…what does this have to do with Brocade and networking? At Brocade Tech Day, myself and other analysts sat down to hear about the new story from Brocade in the data center. At the heart of the message was the work “simplicity”. Simplicity Through Innovation. The need to radically simplify things in order to achieve the scale and efficiency we need to create huge data centers. And at the center of it all is Brocade’s VCS Ethernet fabric. I got a chance to kick the tires on VCS back at Network Field Day 2, but the announcements at Brocade Tech Day were a bit more ambitious. That’s because the face of VCS is now the Brocade VDX 8770. This switch is a monster. It has the capability of learning up to 384,000 MAC addresses in those little CAM tables. It has the capacity for 384 10GigE and 96 40GigE ports, as well as expandability to 100GigE. Though I’m a bit unsure of how they arrived at the numbers, they claim it can support up to 320,000 virtual machines on those ports. Ivan Pepelnjak did a great breakdown of the capabilities of the switch on launch day. I’m especially keen on the idea that you can create a four-way virtual gateway that shares the same IP and MAC address. This overcomes the limitations of HSRP/VRRP, as well as some of the quirkiness of GLBP. That shows that Brocade is at least thinking beyond layer 2, unlike a lot of data center vendors that believe the world is flat (networking wise). After speaking with Lisa Caywood (@TheRealLisaC), I found that this huge iron switch is being used by customers not at the core of the network but instead at the edge of the data center, where all those hungry hypervisors and servers live. All the numbers that I’m seeing from the VDX 8770 point to it as a way to aggregate a huge amount of packets coming from a data center server farm and feed it through the rest of the network via VCS. That makes total sense when coupled with some of Brocade’s prognostications, such as 80% of server traffic becoming east-west (server-to-server) in the next year or so.
Brocade also had some other interesting pieces on display. One of them was a new capability for the ADX application delivery controller, or load balancer as 90% of the rest of the world calls it. The ADX is slated to begin using Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to terminate VXLAN tunnels before they head into the VCS fabric. I find it very interesting that they chose FPGAs to do this, having seen something similar from Arista just a few months ago. I also get to chuckle a little bit to myself when one of the cornerstones of the software defined networking (SDN) world is terminated in a hardware construct. I suppose it brings a bit of order back to my world. Another interesting thing that came up during the presentations is that Brocade is making all their own silicon in the VDX 8770 and moving forward. In a day and age where moving to merchant silicon seems to be the flavor of the month, I’m curious as to where Brocade is headed with this. Obviously, the ability to create your own chips gives you an advantage over other competitors when it comes to designing the chip the way you want it to function, such as putting 38MB of TCAM on it or producing something with a ridiculously low port-to-port latency. However, the agility afforded from merchant silicon gives other vendors the ability to innovate in the software arena. That, I believe, is where the battleground is really going to be in the coming months. On the one side, you’ll have vendors invested in custom silicon that will be doing amazing things with hardware. On the other side, you’ll have the merchant silicon vendors that are all using very similar reference designs but are really concentrating on innovation in software. It’s an exciting time to be in networking for sure.
Brocade Tech Day Disclaimer
I was invited to attend Brocade Tech Day by Brocade. They paid for my airfare and lodging. I also attended an executive dinner that evening that was provided by Brocade. At no time during this process was any requirement made of me in regards to posting information about Brocade Tech Day. Brocade did not ask for nor were they promised any consideration in this post. The conclusions and analysis herein are mine and mine alone.