Switch preferences – Cisco vs. Brocade vs. Mcdata

It’s like religion with some people.  Cisco vs. Brocade.

As someone who is no longer affiliated with any storage manufacturer or vendor, I can finally voice a real opinion.

As a consultant, I’ve installed more than 100 switches of every size and flavor.  The most disasterous install was a job in Norfolk, VA, where a DS-12000B (brocade) “director” had to be swapped out at the last minute for a defective backplane.  (Every time we plugged a blade into it the blade would fail – permanently)

If given the choice I will always prefer to go with the McData for just plain old brute force reliability.  I know of at least a dozen of the old ED-1032 switches that are still functioning in a production environment.  They last forever, are easy to manage, integrate into most of the emc packages seamlessly, and are great bang for the buck.

That being said, some of my best recent experiences have been with the new Cisco MDS series switches.  Now they take some getting used to, but once you set them up they require minimal management.

Cisco – with VSAN support and it’s internal routing capability (FCIP is a real possibility with the Cisco) is hands down one of the best switches on the market.  Using VSAN’s you can logically carve up a switch into multiple virtual switches, guaranteeing no cross-talk between certain ports (I believe each VSAN also has it’s own fibre name-server as well)  Of course if you’re zoning properly, with only a single initiator and single target in every zone, you don’t have to worry about this…

The downside of Cisco of course is that to use the command line, you have to be quite a bit more knowledgable about the Cisco IOS, as the fabric os follows most of the same command syntax.  (IE – to disable a port you type “shut” to enable it you type “no shut”)

The GUI is fairly intuitive on both, though Cisco requires a *LOT* of java and the management server has to install and run on the system you’re managing it from.  (unlike the brocade, which can be managed from any host with a basic java version installed.

The Cisco seems to have the best Interoperability – working well with most other Vendor’s hardware, I’ve yet to see something that won’t plug into a Cisco switch, including a brocade switch. 🙂

if you’re not planning on doing anything fancy and you just need a good reliable switch, I’ve got to say go with McData.  But if you want VSAN capability, FCIP, a switch that can route IP like the best routers in the world, buy a Cisco.

If you’re going to buy a Cisco switch, my only suggestion is that you buy the switch from Cisco, and not from EMC.  Cisco support (dial-home) is built into the swtich, but currently EMC has no method of remotely monitoring cisco switches.  (They suggest using ECC, which works, but puts someone between the switch and the EMC Software Assistance Center (SAC).  So if a switch or component fails, it’s up to you to both notice it and call it in before the clock even starts on the repair.  (the 4 hour response window is from the point when EMC is first notified of the issue).

Of course EMC’s sales force might disagree.

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