Brocade has introduced its first Fibre Channel switch that can be used within both Brocade and McDATA SANs.
Available next month, the 4Gbit/s Brocade 5000 switch comes with 16 of its 32 ports enabled; more can be enabled by purchasing software keys. It will replace both the Brocade Silkworm 4100 and the McDATA Sphereon 4700, and will be pitched at about the same price, said Brocade systems engineering manager Simon Pamplin.
"You've always been able to drop to FC2 level and have switches interoperate at the lowest common denominator," he added. "This is native interoperability - it means working at E_Port level."
The 5000 may be able to work on either, but it can't route between Brocade and McDATA SANs - the hardware is the same, but it needs the right firmware to match the switches it is going to be working with.
"It will probably have a command-line switch in the future, to change modes," Pamplin said, noting that the company has declared it will converge the Brocade FOS and McDATA M-EOS fabrics by the first half of 2008.
For years now, many SAN users have preferred to stick with one switch vendor per fabric to avoid the potential for conflicts. Does the arrival of a dual-mode switch suggest that the lack of interoperability between SANs was an artificial construct of the vendors, who created vendor lock-in out of a supposedly open specification?
"At a certain level, all Fibre Channel adheres to FC-IP. Every vendor then adds its own specific functionality on top," Pamplin acknowledged. He denied that this was done to make interoperability awkward.
Brocade had already achieved a degree of interoperability with the 7500 intelligent switch, which came from its acquisition of Rhapsody Networks, he said. This could host virtual switches compatible with either Brocade or McDATA SANs and route between them.
He claimed that full interoperability - meaning the ability to seamlessly drop a Brocade switch into a McDATA fabric - had had to wait until the two engineering teams had merged and Brocade had full ownership of the McDATA switch software.
Brocade added that it had updated its free SAN Health Professional diagnostics software to support McDATA fabrics and devices. ®