What switches to buy (or not buy) for interop training

If you are going to build a storage lab to study for the CCIE Storage Networking, you will need to have switches from other vendors to test interop.  The Cisco CCIE Storage Lab equipment list makes it clear that you may encounter Brocade and McData switches. Each of these vendors made quite a few switches, so which ones to get?

I find this Wikipedia page very helpful.  It shows which switches are McData and which are Brocade.

When it comes to Brocade, I would just grab an old cheap Silkworm, such as a 2400 or 2800.  You can get these cheap for like $30 or less on ebay all the time.  If you get one with GBIC’s in it that even saves you more money, although 1GB GBIC’s are not that expensive.  On the McData side, there are a few switches to choose from.  The Wikipedia article is important, because these same switches were sold under the EMC name (and others) and sometimes you can find them cheaper branded as an EMC.  Its the same switch, so no worries there.  For example, a McData Sphereon 4500 is the same as an EMC DS-24M2.

The ES-3016, ES-3032 and ES-3232 would work fine, using either their McData or EMC counterparts.  The Sphereon series are a bit nicer and newer such as the 4500 and 4700.  Once again you can buy the EMC counterparts.  I use an EMC DS-24M2, and I run the latest McData code on it and it works fine.  Let me tell you a little about my experiences with McData.

You learn alot in putting together a lab.  You buy things, make mistakes, it costs you money.  You buy more, some things come in broken or not working properly.  There is alot of chances you can take when buying “as-is” on ebay.  The first McData switch I bought was an ES-4300.  It looked clean, seemed to support recent McData code, so I bought it.  It came in, I had to figure out how to password recover it.  An excellent forum to get helpful information on both Brocade and McData switches, is the Brocade forums over at my.brocade.com.  So create an account and search it for anything you may be looking for.

As the Wikipedia article explains, Brocade purchased McData some time again, merged the product lines, so anything you need about McData you have to goto Brocade for.

The issue with the ES-4300 (Sphereon 4300) switch I bought is that, on this particular model, being able to do E-ports was a licensed feature!  They called this the “Fabric Capable” license.  Unfortunately my ES-4300 I got on ebay for $35 did not have this license.  Furthermore, even if your switch has the license, if you have to password recover it, it may wipe out all licensing! You cannot request the licenses without a support contract, and I beleive the ES-4300 is end of support 🙂  Besides it would not be worth buying a license or purchasing a support contract on a switch you paid $35 for. I am sure either would cost hundreds of dollars if not more.

So I decided to buy a ES-3016, the 16-port 1GB baby brother of the ES-3032.  It came in a bit rough.  It did not boot, I just got the ERR LED on all the time.  Another $40 wasted (These things are not cheap to ship either).  Finally, I decided to get a Sphereon switch, which are the newer McData’s.  I went for the 4500 because E-port ability is built in.  Only the 4300 I believe has it where you must purchase this functionality.  I bought a Sphereon 4500 (EMC DS-24M2).  It came in pretty clean, booted, i was able to password recover it, upgrade it, success!

Sometimes these switches are only licensed for certain features or number of ports, and you have to purchase additional licenses to get more functionality.  But for interop testing you really just need to be able to do basic connectivity, as you are going to be messing with things like fcdomain, zones, etc.  So you don’t have to have a very featurefull switch, and certainly not anything faster than 1GB is required.

So don’t put too much thought into the Brocade and McData switches you buy, but stick to some of the ones I mentioned or make sure you read the manuals to make sure they can do E ports for sure, as that is a key thing you need to do with them.

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