SAN switch and director supplier Brocade is proposing that Fibre Channel (FC) storage area network (SAN) and data centre users consolidate servers and storage under a new over-arching DCF - data centre fabric.

This combines Fibre Channel and data centre Ethernet (DCE). As part of this concept Brocade is launching its new more-than-a-director switch, the DCX or Data Centre Backbone switch.

The DCX is said to be the same physical size as the existing SilkWorm 48000 director but supports 768 ports instead of the 48K's 384. It supports both Fibre Channel and Ethernet, also routing, FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP) and FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet.) The Ethernet is the new coming data centre -class Ethernet (DCE) with flow control and loss-less packet transmission. DCE is needed to provide a stable and reliable network quality of service on which Fibre Channel can be carried in the FCoE protocol.

We should think of 10Gbit/s speeds which would allow server-to-server clustering. Unlike iSCSI which is being used to build smaller SAN islands separate from FC SANs or as a low-cost alternative to them, FCoE will, it is hoped, extend FC SAN access to Ethernet-connected servers in, and connected to, data centres.

The DCX product could also be used to build Ethernet-only SANs. However, since virtually every global enterprise of significance uses Fibre Channel the likelihood of Fibre Channel being eclipsed by Ethernet any time soon is remote. Also FCoE product is probably a year or more away.

The DCX is intended to bring servers and storage boxes into a single entity and provides intelligent and high bandwidth connectivity, optimised server virtualisation, application services and automated policies for them, through a combination of innate DCX services and services provided by plug-in modules. Plug-in module service could include SAN virtualisation, backup to a virtual tape library, replication and encryption.

The DCX box will sit at the hub of SAN and server networks, and also file area networks (FANs) which Brocade sees as a means of distributing files to servers with a variety of services including file virtualisation, global namespace and wide-area file services (WAFS).

The logic of DCF means that Brocade sees the DCX also acting as a hub for general network access to and from the data centre. This is the area where Brocade has virtually no presence and Cisco, accompanied by Jupiter and Foundry Networks, has lots.

This is a monumentally big play by Brocade; it is aiming to become king of the data centre. The overall idea is that DCF is the sea and DCX aka Neptune becomes the god of the sea. Eat your heart out Cisco.