Brocade (BRCD) is turning the idea of campus network expansion on its ear by adopting the notion that stacking switches can be done horizontally instead of just vertically, offering greater flexibility to a networking environment.

The networking vendor’s newest additions to its HyperEdge architecture adopt a scale-out philosophy, enabling campuses to deploy to distribute switches at various points along the network and manage them from a central location.

“We are addressing the need for flexible stackables—we had that story at the edge already,” said Mary Lenehan, product marketing manager at Brocade. “We’ve been seeing in the marketplace over the last few years is that this trend of moving from modular to fixed form factor is occurring higher in the food chain, at the core. But customers’ chassis deployments come at a high price tag and oftentimes the scaling these chassis are built for is never done.”

All that capacity a campus purchased to future-proof its network, she said, most likely was never used. And as larger switches—notably Cisco Systems’ Catalyst 6500 series—are being retired, campuses aren’t seeing an ROI to having such large systems.

Modular switches, on the other hand, give campuses the ability to scale by distributing switches across the network, offering a greater amount of flexibility. Brocade’s ICX 7750 switch features high-density, 10/40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) connectivity, providing campuses with the density they need to handle the heavy traffic inherent in a campus environment.

“Silicon has advanced to the point where we can get 10GbE and 40GbE densities, which gives us the density aggregation needed to scale out,” Lenehan said.

The ICX 7750 also offers high-availability, with the ability for campuses to do in-service software updates by device or by stack. “That was a huge roadblock we had to remove to play in this space,” she said.

For campuses looking to move some or all of its networking technology to software-defined networking protocols, the ICX 7750 is SDN-compliant.

“We think we have what could be a disruptive technology,” she said.

The ICX 7750, slated for availability in January 2014, will be available in three models:

  • 26 fixed 40GbE and six 40 GbE slot module
  • 48 fixed 10GbE and six fixed, 40GbE + 6×40 GbE slot
  • 48 10GBase-T and six fixed 40GbE +6×40 GbE slot

“The notion is that if campuses install them today they have that flexibility to grow over time,” Lenehan said.

Brocade is doing a good job answering the needs of its customers in both the data center and campus environments, especially in future-proofing beyond adding a few slots for expansion. Channel partners playing in this space should have no trouble selling the advantages of this new style of stacking—provided physics doesn’t get in the way of the conversation.