Brocade has completed its company-wide shift to 4Gbit/s with a new 48000 director and low-end 200E switch.

The Fibre Channel standard - twice as fast as the previous 2Gbit/s standard - is backwards compatible so a company can comfortably ungrade.

Brocade's existing 24000 128-port director can accept the 4-gig port blades used in the 48000, while the new director can have up to 256 ports. All Brocade switch and directors run the same Fabric software which makes the company the first vendor to have a 4-gig capability across its product range.

With 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel, customers can have the same number of ports, but running twice as fast, or condense some of their existing 2-gig links onto 4-gig ones and simplify their setup. Trunked 4-gig ports can create inter-switch links of up to 32Gbit/s. As such a system is easily expanded and able to deal with far greater demand.

As for the other switch/director vendors:

Cisco is still at the 2Gbit/s level with its MDS 9000 (9100, 9200, 9500) switches and directors. It means ports on its boxes run half as fast as on Brocade and other vendor's newer devices.

McData has a 10Gbit/s Intrepid 10K director with 10-gig used for interswitch links and 2-gig used to link to other fabric devices. Its Intrepid 6000 director and Sphereon switches operate at 2Gbit/s. Its IBM Blade Center embedded switch also operates at 2-gig. However an embedded switch for HP, co-developed with QLogic, operates at 4Gbit/s.

QLogic has a 4-gig stackable SANbox 5600 but the rest of its range, the SANboxes 2-64, 5200, 3100 and 3050, are all at the 2-gig level. It is developing a 4-gig embedded switch with McData.

Back in September, 2003, QLogic was promoting the idea of using 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel. Since then it has introduced one 4-gig stackable switch but the rest of its product line has remained resolutely at the 2Gbit/s level. It looks as if the steam has gone out of its product development.

An alternative view is that there is no real demand for 4-gig Fibre Channel. Until there is then suppliers will concentrate on the 2-gig products. QLogic clearly has 4-gig technology. It just hasn't chosen to deploy it yet.

Brocade is branching out from SAN fabric switches and directors but it will be some time before revenue from these products is exceeded. The new Brocade boxes are being qualified by OEM partners now and will be available later this year. No prices have been supplied.