Lenovo & Brocade: The Swiss Army Knife of Blade Networking!


I’ve met with many IT clients over the past year and what comes through loud and clear is their need for agility, performance and investment protection as they look for ways to improve their data center’s responsiveness, and get the best return on their IT budget.

This reminds me of a recent interaction with my son as he prepared for a camping trip. I noticed he set aside a variety of utensils (spoon, fork, knife, scissors, plus a pocket knife) to add to his backpack. He had a lot of unique items to address his specific needs. I remembered my days as a boy scout and found my old Swiss Army Knife, which is an all-in-one, multi-purpose device. I handed it to my son and told him that this one tool gives him the flexibility to address multiple needs and he needed to keep things simple. 

This is very similar to the complexity I had been seeing over the past decade in the blade-server market when it came to networking. However, that all changed at the end of 2014 with some enhancements to the Flex System EN4023 switch, designed by Brocade with our VCS technology. Now, Flex System clients can have similar flexibility to what my son has with my Swiss Army Knife — in addition to a product that can help them be more agile and provide better investment protection, while delivering the performance required by their users. Let’s dive into these benefits.

  1. Agility: The Flex System EN4023 provides extreme flexibility in a single switch. It supports LAN (Layer 2, Layer 3, OpenFlow) and is optimized for SAN, including iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or Fibre Channel. Not only does the EN4023 support OpenFlow, but Brocade also has an SDN Controller and was the first to announce support for VXLAN. This provides clients looking at software-defined data centers with a switch that can play in both overlay and underlay environments — making it one of the best switches for VMware environments. With, HP you need to select from Virtual Connect basic Ethernet or converged models. And if you want OpenFlow or VXLAN support, you might not find it on the same class of switch you were considering. If you pick the wrong switch, you might be stuck doing a fork-lift upgrade if your requirements change in the future.
  2. Performance: End-user demands are at an all-time high and IT is under more pressure than ever. For example, we are seeing increased demands on application performance as clients look for ways to use IT as a competitive advantage for their business — whether it be big data, social media or analytics. Plus, many clients continue to look for ways to increase VM density per server. There is also the growth of solid-state and flash-based storage arrays driving demand for performance. All of this adds up to more pressure for speed on the network.The EN4023 switch is well positioned with its leadership connectivity of 10Gbps and 40Gbps Ethernet upstream links and support for FCoE and Gen 5 16Gbps Fibre Channel (it also connects to 4/8Gbps Fibre Channel). Add on top of that ultra-low latency Ethernet, FCoE and Fibre Channel traffic at sub-microsecond latency using an innovative single ASIC design, and you have a high-performance switch. Plus, clients looking to scale out clusters can leverage the 10/40Gbps QSFP+ to build even larger fabrics, scaling up to 24 chassis in a single cluster. Read about how Brocade helped Jim Henson’s Creature Shop boost productivity and improve efficiency with VCS technology. Most competitors have implemented multi-ASIC designs in their converged switches or forced traffic out of the chassis to a top-of-rack switch, which adds latency. Today, Dell, Cisco UCS and HP converged offerings do not support Gen 5 16Gbps Fibre Channel. I am not aware that Dell, Cisco or HP can even come close to Lenovo’s ability to scale up to 336 compute nodes in a cluster.      
  3. Investment protection: While many competitors’ switches come standard with a fixed number of ports, the EN4023 provides extreme flexibility allowing clients to license ports as needed. With Brocade’s dynamic ports on demand, clients deploying a partial chassis could start with as few as 12 ports and then scale as more ports are required with additional 12- or 24-port licenses, up to a total of 48 total ports. Another advantage is the simplicity of plug and play. As the Flex System compute nodes slide into the chassis or cables/transceivers are connected to the external ports, those ports are automatically activated by using available port licenses. In addition, clients can activate ports for use with FCoE or even Fibre Channel externally with the simple purchase of an upgrade license.

Now IT departments can have the same agility, investment protection and simplicity that my son has with his Swiss Army Knife.

Learn more about the Flex System EN4023 Scalable Switch and read the An Introduction to Brocade VCS Fabric Technology white paper.