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Brocade targets SDN planners in campus switch range refresh

OpenFlow? Check. Vyatta? Check. Buzzwords? Oh yes

Brocade has announced a new bunch of campus switches, and with them support for new software defined network (SDN) features and a nifty ability to mix different switches in the stack as if they were all the same kind.

While the press release tries to grab the eye with stuff like port density and speeds-and-feeds, the Switch Port Extender should grab a bit of attention among customers.

This lets ICS 7250 and ICX 7450 switches – with a form factor and price suitable to their edge deployment – inherit features from the ICX 7750, once the Switch Port Extender (SPE) capability is fully rolled out by the end of 2015.

Phil Coates, Brocade's systems engineering manager ANZ, elaborated to Vulture South that the SPE provides the ability to mix different model switches in a stack, but with a wrinkle: “the stack can cover up to 10 km”.

Out at the edge – individual rooms in a university campus, for example – products connected via the port extender are “under control of the boss of the stack, the ICX 7750 – they get their configuration and software booted from the 7750.”

The smaller switches can still be treated as standalone units, but in the SPE configuration, “get their personality from the central unit.”

Part of Brocade's “hyper-edge” strategy, Coates said the ability to inherit personality should make the networks cheaper to deploy and run, and easier to manage. That capability means the ICX 7250 can consolidate 576 1Gbps Ethernet ports into a virtual chassis, with Layer 3 services available if required.

The ICX range supports OpenFlow 1.3, and has OpenDaylight support (with full certification with the company's Vyatta Controller). Coates also pointed to flow optimisation features in the switch range as another sell point.

Since LAN switches have been able to offer prioritisation since practically forever, El Reg asked why this is important. Coates explained that there are two things that networks need in the modern world: one is automation, to relieve the load on sysadmins; and the other is more sophisticated optimisation.

He picked on school networks as one example of how optimisation decisions might need to be made: that a 13-year-old student's traffic should, at exam time, take a lower priority than a final-year student.

“We want people to differentiate not just flow-by-application, but according to very specific policies,” Coates said. “It's an example of applications being delivered by software defined networks [SDN] – things that provide a hook between the app and the network, and the policy control and automation you need.”

While the OpenFlow 1.3 support is a headline item, Gary Denman, Brocade's A/NZ senior director, said most customers are asking for it as part of their planning for the future.

As customers refresh campus networks, they have SDN in mind, so things like OpenFlow are “becoming a requirement in specifications,” Denman said. “It's often investment protection at this point”. ®

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