Light Reading

Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto

Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) 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. (Nasdaq: BRCD) 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. (Nasdaq: CSCO), 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.

One box
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.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:11 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

I'm new to this whole debate about whether or not Trill sucks. I'm assuming most people would say it doesn't.

Anyone want to enlighten us all on the truth in either direction?

Pete Baldwin
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:11 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

Go ahead, click on that Cisco video link. Listen to just the first 3 seconds. LET THERE BE DRAMA!

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:08 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric


1.  Cisco Video - Was waiting for William Wallace to appear and cry "FREEDOM!"

2. Trill - Why would you not expect a router company to trash Ethernet?

Nothing is perfect and all things have their place.



User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:05 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

Forget those buzz words, just look at the shipped boxes.

We know what's really happening. Are we trying to create

another IT bubble with just concepts or marketing ads.


Looks we are one step ahead to bubble 2.0 since people

started to talking without making real products.


User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:04 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

Shipped boxes, agreed:

AFAIK, Cisco's been selling (and shipping) Nexus boxes with unified fabric for a while now.

What's the impressive thing of Juniper announcement? Near-zero latency in a proprietary fabric that does not ship yet? Scaling a system that does not exist? Dismissing trill whithout explaining what to do with 40 GE or 100GE ?

And what about Brocade's ? A 60 10GE ports switch? Is that everything they can do?

Have they ever heard of the (shipping) Nexus 7018 or the (shipping) 5596 ?

I'm working with a customer that is building now a new datacenter. Its requirements start at 32 servers per rack, CNAs and redundant connections. Brocade, please tell me what am I supposed to do with a 60 port switch.

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:08:58 PM
re: Brocade Responds to Juniper's QFabric

First off I find it rather sad that Juniper feels so threatened by TRILL that they must insult it by calling it a joke or other fluffy schoolyard insults. All the engineers at these companies do their best to make good products. No need to insult. Makes him look insecure and immature. 

Port Count; I must say I agree that 60 ports is a bit odd. However, they seem to offer a 24port and 60port version. Seems more likely people would use 2x24port boxes. Maybe 24 is for top of rack, 60 for end of row? Maybe they just wanted to see how many 10Gb connections they could fit in 2U? But once again, for the poster to simply say " Tell me what I'm suppose to do with 60 ports" Well, I would guess you are to plug 60 cables into it. Are you saying there are too many ports? Or too few? State your argument. 

TRILL; So I just came back from the TRILL WG at the IETF in Prague. TRILL is alive and well and very active. A LOT of people showed up. If you want to see the status, download this Agenda, Etc.

Are there people trying to stop TRILL? Sure, mostly SPB people, for obvious self serving reasons. However with the two chairs of the WG being one Cisco Principal Engineer and one Huawei Principal Engineer, I think it's safe to say it has a good team behind it. Especially when you add Radia Perlman to this list. She invented a little thing called Spanning Tree...oh and IS-IS. Maybe you have heard of these things?

When you consider that Cisco, Marvell, Brocade, Fulcrum & Broadcom are ALL producing chips with TRILL support I think it may be a bit of a "joke" to call TRILL anything but a protocol gaining wide industry support. 

Will SPB survive? I thought so, I though we would end up with TRILL and SPB just like we ended up with IS-IS and OSPF. However with QFabric even Juniper has ditched SPB and is using a proprietary solution based on BGP for QFabric. 

So if Juniper bails on SPB, I'm not sure what will happen. Kind of sad, customers want choice and open standards. Juniper has damaged both with QFabric.

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