Oh no, not Brocade!

Brocade was the last presenter at Networking Field Day 9 this year. When I saw them on the list of presenters I was not thrilled. I will go into more detail later why I was not interested in Brocade, but they did a great job with their presentations and look like they are moving in the right direction.

SDN with Brocade Vyatta

At NFD9 Brocade talked about their Vyatta Controller. While they have their secret sauce in the applications for the controller, and keep that private, they do contribute back to the ODL (Open Day Light) community and their controller is 100% ODL. You don’t have to use Brocade gear with their controller and they will support the controller communication with the device it is programming. While I work for a partner of a Brocade competitor, I still can’t get access to a VM/NFR/trial of that manufacturer’s SDN solution. Brocade gives away their controller and a license to manage up to 5 nodes for 1 year for free. On top of that they give you 60 days of support and you can also download the virtual Vyatta Router to use with their controller. This is great if you want to play with SDN and a step in the right direction.

Programability of the Network

Jon Hudson didn’t go over any specific product, but talked about the ideas of SDN and programming the network. We have all heard the FUD that eventually network jobs will disappear and networking will be taken over by developers. Jon made this statement in his talk, “Most network engineers know how to code, we went to school, and we chose not to be programmers. That doesn’t mean I don’t love coding on the weekend.” I believe the reciprocal is true also in that most app developers chose to be app developers and not network engineers or administrators. We will eventually have controllers in our networks helping us automate those repeatable events. And the controllers will bring us new features and functionality that we have never really had, like steering traffic in our network. I recommend you go and watch Jon’s presentation.

Volumetric Traffic Management

Brocade’s VTM has some good use cases for an SDN application. The VTM re-routes large traffic flows by using sFlow exports to detect the elephant flows and OpenFlow 1.3 to re-route the traffic. VTM is currently supported with the MLX and ICX platforms with the VDX platform on the roadmap. A good use case for this SDN application would be if your backup traffic transits your primary network and security wants your primary traffic flows to go through an IPS. You could then use VTM to re-route your backup traffic around the IPS while the remainder of your traffic goes through the IPS. Santosh also mentioned that VTM can be used to help mitigate some types of large traffic attacks in that VTM can also program the switches to drop traffic altogether.

After the Camera Goes Off

In my previous job the decision was made to go with Brocade for the IPv4 network infrastructure in a new green field Data Center. We had two MLX switches as the core, two DCX switches with FCoE blades for new servers, and a number of FGS switches for legacy servers and appliances. It was a challenge getting all of those Brocade devices working together, even with Brocade services helping. I came away from that experience with a VERY bad taste for Brocade networking equipment and I have enjoyed ripping any of it out of client networks since then. So when I heard that Brocade was one of the presenters at NFD9 I was not looking forward to hearing from them. I decided that I needed to go in with an open mind and hear what they have to say. What they presented was very intriguing and piqued my interest. After the camera was off we were able to talk with Michael Bushong who is VP of Data Center R/S and was recently hired in December 2014. There were other delegates that had issues with Brocade network gear. Michael had stated that he was aware of issues and he had already started making changes internally. I have seen, from Twitter, Brocade hire a number of smart R/S engineers this year.

Brocade has a good opportunity in becoming a serious player in the IP network in the Data Center. In my opinion they are doing things right from getting their Vyatta controller into engineer’s hands to hiring great people on the R/S team. I look forward to seeing them at the next Networking Field Day.

[Updated: Made correction Lisa Caywood pointed out]

Disclaimer: Brocade was a sponsor of Networking Field Day 9. They indirectly paid for my travel and expenses. They may have also given some sort of swag to the delegates. At no time did they ask for, or were promised, any type of consideration in the writing of this article. The opinions and any inaccuracies are mine alone.