This week, I attended HP Discover in Las Vegas. It was a very busy week, and I am only now coming up for air. Most of the week was spent in the Brocade booth, speaking with customers, resellers, and others. What struck me as something we haven't seen much at the show in previous years was the type of questions being asked. The typical conversation would usually revolve around a customers question about - what's the latest speed you're shipping, or what arrays do you support, or do you support this adapter and server combination. Very little of that happened this year. People just weren't interested in talking about speeds and feeds or support matrices as they pertained to storage this year. What they did want to talk about was how we can better enable their application needs. How can we get app owners off of their backs? Or in the case of the application owners, how can we help their storage guys keep applications up, performing, and to SLA?
From where I'm sitting, this is a bit of a sea change, and in my opinion is a good one. People are realizing that shipping a box that does x Gbps at this stage is just table stakes. Anyone with enough resources can put out a widget that does 16 Gbps, or 40 Gbps, or whatever other speed you are looking for. It's the execution - the toolset you build around it - the ease of deployment or resources needed to run it. People are demanding more than a frame rate.
Don't get me wrong - speeds and feeds are still needed to get you to the table. That's why Brocade pioneered 16Gbps FC and started shipping those products over two years ago. It's why we are busy at work on the Gen6 FC standards as well (That's going to be a dual speed standard of 32 and 128 Gbps FC. How is that for speed?). But at the end of the day, someone who just wants a 16Gbps switch can buy one from our competition as well. That’s just fine by me, because no one came to my booth saying "I want you to show me how fast you can switch frames.” They came asking me about Fabric Vision. If I had a dollar for each person specifically asking me for information about Brocade Fabric Vision technology, I could have covered the lofty dinner tab on Tuesday night! I am OK with that!
Fabric Vision Technology is a combination of hardware, software and management features built into Brocade’s Gen5 FC platforms and management software that is seriously revolutionizing SANs. Flow Vision, MAPS, ClearLink, Dashboards, and a few other features have taken storage networking straight into the future, Marty McFly in a DeLorean style. Flow Vision allows you to configure a monitoring point anywhere in the SAN and track frames for any specific flow you might be looking for. Need to see that Oracle traffic to storage port 3? Done. Want to see every single conversation taking place in the SAN crossing a specific E_Port, and see it broken down flow by flow? Done. Did I also mention that it is built into the switch? To me, this is exactly the kind of big deal we have been waiting for in the SAN community for a long time. We have been able to do things like this in the past, but have needed taps and analyzers to pull it off.
MAPS gives us the power to create powerful policy based thresholding and monitoring of our SANs in an easy to use, easy to configure tool. For the biggest customers out there, this policy driven style allows them to keep consistent rules and alerts on all of their devices, in all of their fabrics – as well as the customization to get everything alerting exactly the way they want it, and keep it all in compliance with the rules the bosses have set. For the smaller customers who may not have the levels of expertise needed to create their own policies. These customers may be grateful we’ve given them a way to alert on the number of CRCs received in a minute, but will probably be wondering how many in a minute is bad? Should they worry about it? Good news. MAPS comes out of the box with 3 different fully fleshed out policies, based on the best practices developed over the last 15 years by Brocade Support and Brocade Engineering, tailored to answer those ever present questions.
When you combine MAPS and Flow Vision together, you can configure alerting thresholds and response actions based on those traffic monitors you created in Flow Vision.Then have all of that information shown to you on a custom dashboard in Brocade Network Advisor, so you can have any detailed data you need for that mission critical application right at your fingertips. I like to think that I am not particularly easy to impress, but last year when Brocade engineering showed off these new capabilities to the wider Systems Engineering groups, I was floored. We now have the tools needed to anticipate outages, prevent them before they happen, and in general, be significantly more aware of what is going on in our SANs.
I love that Brocade has put out a suite of tools for storage networking that are items I have been wishing for since the days I was managing large storage environments myself. Flow Vision alone is such a big deal that if I ever go back to managing SANs for a living, I am going to refuse to work for anyone who won’t get it for me. I’ve only just scratched the surface of everything that is part of Fabric Vision. There just isn’t enough room in the blog to fit it all in. Maybe I’ll write another post to cover the features I didn’t get to. Its not that they aren't great - I just happen to really love Flow Vision and MAPS, so they got top billing today.
In the end, the application owner is still probably going to come looking for us, but now we have the advantage of knowing they are on their way. That is a pretty significant advantage to have when someone comes calling, ready to throw down with you in the Great Blame Game (TM). My dream of not actually having to talk to the application owner is probably going to have to wait a little longer though.