Neptune in Greek mythology is the god of the sea, god of horses and the earth-shaker, the cause of earthquakes. Brocade is looking for its new director, code-named Neptune, to shake up the SAN landscape and, hopefully, knock Cisco's product strategy about a bit.

Neptune is to be launched in a few weeks time and Brocade is keeping it under wraps. But details are emerging.

First of all it uses the new 8Gbit/s Fibre Channel (FC) blades, 16-, 32- and 48 port. Secondly it uses the just announced 48000 interoperability features to unify Brocade's Silkworm and McData's i10K and Intrepid 6140 director-class products.

The addition of 8Gbit/s FC links is impressive but there is little evidence of demand for 8Gbit/s speed. Indeed, 4Gbit/s FC links are relatively recent. Perhaps Brocade is hoping that data growth will be so strong as to drive more traffic through SAN pipes, pressuring a speed increase.

The overall information about Neptune is that it is not just another Fibre Channel director with double the 384 port count of the Silkworm 48000.

It will be a multi-protocol storage networking engine and support 8- and 4Gbit/s FC, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) and 10Gbit/s Ethernet. The core is a 768-port switching unit, i.e. two Silkworm 48000 cores, which can have blades inserted in its chassis. These perform storage fabric services such as ensuring particular quality of service, storage virtualisation, routing through ports, continuous data protection (CDP), data migration, replication and encryption.

Interestingly, Brocade is no expert in things like CDP and must partner with the relevant software suppliers. It also needs a standard blade platform that they can run on, say an x86 and Linux one.

Brocade has said it will expand into the host bus adapter (HBA) and Intelligent Server Adapter markets and the linkage between these server-housed devices and Neptune must be strong. The first ISA product is expected early next year. Brocade HBAS are here already.

In a sense Neptune is a huge storage pool controller and manager, and more. That storage can be accessed over Ethernet - think iSCSI - or over Fibre Channel - think existing storage area networks (SANs). It can be heterogeneous, meaning multi-vendor, comprise bit block buckets, file stores, virtual tape libraries and physical tape libraries with Neptune acting as the front-end controller for all of it.

Neptune will be able to be dropped in to existing SANs and remove a scalability ceiling they are facing at the moment as well as providing much more integrated iSCSI access.

It will also have good integration with virtual servers and Brocade is positioning it as the company's response to Cisco's Data Center 3.0 project. This is about having the network as the datacentre platform through which virtualised computer, storage and networking services are managed, provisioned and monitored. It is a very Sun-like message with the network, in effect, being the computer and providing compute, storage and networking infrastructure services to applications.

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