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Brocade Intros New Switch, Investment Protection

Storage switch maker Brocade Communications Systems followed up last month's entry-level utility switches Monday by upgrading the fabric for major enterprise customers.

The company said its new SilkWorm 24000 Director for big companies is a significant improvement over the previous Silkworm 12000 model, which shuttles data between devices in a computer network.

Brocade also unveiled an investment protection program -- a rarity in storage networking -- in order to help customers who desire to upgrade from the 12000 to the 24000, which has several new features.

Acccording to Spencer Sells, director of enterprise products at Brocade, the new SilkWorm 24000 will help Brocade deliver more choice in networking capabilities and price performance points. The 24000 features 128 ports, high performance and enterprise-class RAS, or reliability, availability and serviceability.

"[The 24000] excels in areas you expect a director to excel -- scalability, performance, availability," Sells told internetnews.com. "All 128 ports can operate at full duplex non-blocking data transfers 24 hours a day, 7 days week."

The new director also handles the mainframe protcol FICON , which stands for Fiber Connection, or Fiber Connectivity. The fiber optic channel technology extends the capabilities of its previous fiber optic channel standard, Enterprise Systems Connection, or ESCON . FICON supports full duplex data transfers and enables greater data throughput rates over longer distances than ESCON.

"Mainframe customers want to migrate their data from ESCON to FICON," Sells said. "We're still at the starting edge for that phenomenon in the data center. They also want to be able to sort their SCSI (small computer system interface) directors and FICON directors from the same source. This allows them to do that."

Brocade competes with Cisco Systems and McData in the market for switches; but each vendor aims to offer differentiators to separate itself from the pack in the eyes of finicky customers.

For example, a key aspect of Brocade's availability to scale from low-end models, such as the new 3250 and 3280 models, and directors such as the 24000, is the company's singular software code base, which handles anywhere from 8 to 128 ports. This, believes Sells, is what helps Brocade stick out amid tough competition. The 24000 competes with Cisco's 9509 and McData's 6140 directors.

That allows customers to have insurance that they can plug the products together to lower customers' operating expenses by easing management. It also helps OEM partners, a major source of Brocade's sales that include EMC, HP and IBM, reduce time-to-market and support costs.

As for the upgrade program, customers can move from the 12000, which hit the market in 2001 and has an installed base of 3,500, to the 24000 with simple plug-ins. Users can also upgrade from the 24000 to future generations of the high-end director.

This is important because customers need only swap the control processor card between a chassis, avoiding costly, cumbersome rip-and-replace chores.