I joined Hitachi Data Systems in 1997 as the director of open systems storage. I was the loneliest person in Hitachi Data Systems at that time since the company was selling Hitachi mainframes with large enterprise mainframe storage. No one, especially the sales teams wanted to talk to me about those low cost, open system, direct attach, SCSI storage devices. Fortunately, I met Kumar Malavalli, the founder of a small startup company that had just announced something called the” Silkworm” FC switch which had a switch fabric of 1 Gps Fibre Channel links. 1Gbps meant a nominal throughput per direction of 100 MB/s. This was a huge improvement over the then current “fast” SCSI-2 which provided 10 MB/s and required huge 32 pin connectors versus a single fibre connector. More importantly, it freed open systems servers form the limitations of direct attached storage and enabled multiple open systems servers to access a common pool of storage on larger enterprise class storage arrays. This startup company was Brocade and Silkworm was their first generation FC Fabric switches.
Since Hitachi Data Systems had just announced the 7700 scalable storage array with an internal switch architecture, we saw the synergy of combining the Brocade Silkworm switch connectivity fabric with the scalable switch storage architecture of the Hitachi 7700 and we became early partners with Brocade. In those early days, many people thought that the lower cost FC Hub products from Gadzooks and Vixel would be preferred by customers over the expensive Brocade switches. Since we were coming from a mainframe legacy we were familiar with the scalability advantages of the ESCON director switches and we committed to FC switch technology and Storage Area Networks (SAN) as a way to bring enterprise storage functionality to open systems servers.
As the mainframe market declined in the 1990’s, we found it more difficult to compete in that market since we had to include the IBM operating system with every Hitachi mainframe that we sold. In 1999 we changed our strategy to focus on the storage market for mainframe and open systems SAN, exiting the mainframe operating systems market. Our storage switch architecture combined with Brocade switches gave us a competitive advantage that made the revenue transition from mainframes to storage systems fast and painless. We were able to replace 6 to 8 competitive storage arrays with one 7700 array and increased our share in the growing SAN market. Suddenly open systems storage was cool and I was no longer the loneliest person in Hitachi Data Systems.
Since then, technology has progressed rapidly for Brocade and Hitachi Data Systems. The latest VSP G/F series storage arrays are at least our 6th generation storage array since the 7700. Using Intel technology, we have moved away from custom ASICS, and, except for certain use cases like mainframe and NAS where we use select ASICs and FPGAs, all our storage functions are software defined with block, file, and cloud connectivity.
Brocade is now introducing the 6th Generation of Fibre Channel switches which increases the nominal throughput per direction to 32 Gbps per direction! This is 4000 MB/s! This newest innovation includes parallel Fibre Channel which stripes four simultaneous lanes of 32GFC to create a single link with speeds up to 128 Gbps, and provides the perfect Inter-Switch Link (ISL) connectivity for 32GFC edge connectivity. While our VSP G/F series storage arrays are still at 16 Gbps we plan to support native GEN6 32 Gbps ports in the near future. Until support is available there is no need to wait since the GEN6 Brocade switches are backward compatible and will provide higher IOPs with its faster transfer speeds from day one.
In addition to higher IOPs, Gen6 switches will provide additional advantages which can be enjoyed with backward compatibility. The reliability of Fibre Channel links is improved with Forward Error Correction (FEC) which recovers bit errors in high speed networks and minimizes or avoids data stream errors that lead to performance degradation or outages. Energy efficiency is improved with protocol features which can reduce power usage during low activity by 40% to 60 % with optical links and 100% on copper links during inactive usage. N-Port ID Virtualization(NPIV) simplifies the deployment of server virtualization and enables a higher scale of SAN fabrics by eliminating switch and domain count considerations. Security is enhanced through FC-SP-2 which is an enhancement to FC-SP. FC-SP protocol provides authentication between switch ports and other devices. It consists of a Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol (CHAP) with exchange of a password. In order for this to be effective the connecting devices must also support FC-SP. HDS VSP arrays support FC-SP for an additional authentication layer in the fabric for critical applications and data paths. “IO Insight” complements and extends existing Brocade Fabric VisionTM technology and features with deep visibility on storage input/output (IO) performance to ensure operational stability.
Hitachi Data System has a world-wide resale agreement with Brocade, and Brocade is designed into more than 40 HDS solutions. We test and qualify all new Brocade networking products with the Hitachi portfolio and support a large compatibility matrix. Hitachi Data Systems takes first call for all solutions that include Brocade switches. Our joint IP/FC portfolio are key enablers for Digital Transformation.