Juniper Networks Inc. talked a good game in announcing QFabric, its futuristic architecture for large data centers, but its switch/router rivals are ready with their own stories about virtualizing the data center to behave like one big switch.
Light Reading sat down with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. recently to find out how its OneFabric differs from Juniper's architecture. What advantage does the company bring, other than the fact that its name is a type of fabric?
The gist: Brocade says it's got a simpler setup that plays off a data-center heritage.
(Cisco Systems Inc., if you're wondering, announced its unified fabric a couple of years ago, but even so, it's preparing a response to QFabric. Cisco plans to make a data-center announcement Wednesday, and marketing preparation for it started a couple of weeks ago. Check out this video and feel the drama.)
You might recall that Brocade came out with its single-layer fabric announcement in November, about three months ahead of Juniper. It's actually got a core idea similar to Juniper's: making the data center behave like one enormous switch. (See Brocade Flattens Out and How Q-ute! Juniper's QFabric Rethinks the Data Center.)
Where the companies differ is in how to build the fabric that connects everything together into that virtual switch. Two major areas stand out: the types of equipment used and the way they're connected.
Brocade's plan, called Brocade One, involves only one new piece of equipment: the VCX 6720, a family of 10Gbit/s switches that comes in two sizes, 24 or 60 ports.
Juniper will be introducing new elements: an equipment chassis called the interconnect and server-based software called the director. Neither is available just yet.
To be fair, most customers won't be going whole-hog with QFabric right away; the transition could take years. But the delay gives competitors something to pounce on.
"In order to do anything useful [with QFabric], you're going to have to do it at very large scale," says Doug Ingraham, Brocade's vice president of data center products.
Brocade also touts the simplicity of basing its fabric on just one box -- one that included control, data and management planes. The company does see a need to create more varieties of that box, though. "You can think of 10-port blade switches up to modular chassis, all with distributed intelligence and manageable as a logical chassis," says Gurpreet Singh, Brocade's product manager for data center gear.
Juniper is likely to take a lot of flak for QFabric's proprietary interconnect. At the same time, Juniper will be razzing competitors for reliance on an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) protocol called Trill.
Juniper's proprietary connections are those within QFabric. This was a necessity for features Juniper insisted upon, such as nearly zero latency. But as CTO Pradeep Sindhu pointed out during Juniper's announcement, the switches and storage elements that populate QFabric's perimeter, so to speak, connect to the fabric using standard interfaces. Non-Juniper equipment can be connected into a QFabric.
Brocade says it's got a simpler route: using Ethernet all over the place, building the fabric out of Layer 2 connections, linking everything together with Trill.
Juniper doesn't seem scared. "Trill in the data center is a laughingstock," Sindhu said at the QFabric briefing in February.
Juniper couldn't use Trill anyway, because it lacks the Layer 3 capabilities that the company wanted in QFabric. Using Trill would have required extra routers, Sindhu said.
More importantly, he dismissed Trill as being focused on the control plane only; Juniper wanted QFabric to be built with the data and management planes in mind as well.
That appears to be a point of debate. Brocade contends Trill isn't so simplistic. Trill can accommodate data-plane work by including MAC-in-MAC encapsulation (also known as Provider Backbone Bridges (PBB)), Ingraham says. The capability has to be put into hardware, but Brocade already has it in its ASICs, he says. In fact, Ingraham contends Trill was meant for the data plane, and that the control-plane piece was added on top.
â€” Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading