The risk of a fake SFP
seb_ 060000QVK2 Comments (2) Visits (23016)
It's the nightmare of every motorist. Your car was just repaired a few days ago and now it stopped running in the middle of nowhere. Or you even crashed, because the brakes just didn't work in the rain. Fake parts are a big problem in the automotive industry. Original-looking parts from dubious sources could even work as expected in normal operations but when the going gets tough, the weak won't get going. So before a fake cambelt wrecks your engine or a fake brake pad costs your life, it might be a good idea to not save on the wrong things.
But a faked SFP?
Like a brake pad an SFP is somewhat a consumable. Light is transformed into an electric signal and vice versa, produces heat and the components wear out over time. Some sooner, some later. If you bought the SFPs from IBM for a switch under IBM warranty or maintenance, broken SFPs will be replaced for free. But if you decide to buy an SFP, you'll notice after a quick web search that there are a lot of supplier out there offering the same SFP for a much smaller price than IBM. And with "the same SFP" I mean they offer the very same IBM part number - for example 45W1216. That's an 8G 10km LW SFP.
Is it really the same?
Of course not - although they claim it to be the same. Their usual explanation is , that all these SFPs are coming from the same manufacturer anyway. SFPs are built using open standards defined by T11 and therefore they should be compatible per se. I can tell from several occasions: That's not true. There are of course more than 1 SFP manufacturers and I'm sure each of you know a handful offhand. In addition: Even in times before 8G there were SFPs working much better with certain switches than others.
With the 8G platform Brocade decided to offer Brocade-branded SFPs and restricted their switches to only support them and to refuse others (beside of very few exceptions for CWDM SFPs). So Brocade took control over which SFPs can be used and they were able to finetune their ASICs to allow better signal handling and transmission. To enforce that the switch checks the vendor information from the SFP to determine if it's a Brocade branded one. Cisco does the same for the SFPs in their switches.
Here is where the fake begins...
There are several vendors of devices to rewrite these SFP internal information. By spoofing vendor names, OUIs (Organizationally Unique Identifier) and part numbers they try to circumvent the detection mechanisms on the switch. So independent suppliers buy "generic" bulk SFPs and "rebrand" them to sell them as "IBM compatible" with the same part number. And because IBM officially supports the part number (like announced here) one might assume everything will be fine then.
In fact it's not...
Imagine a migration project. The plan is in place, everything is prepared, the components are bought and onsite, all the necessary people are there in the middle of the night or during a weekend and the maintenance window begins. And then these ports everything depends on just don't come online - Only because someone faked these "cheaper but still compatible" SFPs negligently. I had a case where the same SFPs did work in one 8G switch model but not in the other - also 8G - with exactly the same FabricOS.
In the sfpshow output they looked like this:
Identifier: 3 SFP Connector: 7 LC Transceiver: 5401001200000000 200,400,800_MB/s SM lw Long_dist [..] Vendor Name: XXXXXX Vendor OUI: 00:05:1e Vendor PN: 57-1000012-01 [..]
The supplier did not write "Brocade" into the "Vendor Name" field (I replaced it with Xs) but in the "Vendor OUI" field he inserted the OUI from Brocade. In addition he also faked the "Vendor PN" but even used a wrong one. This one is the PN for a shortwave SFP.
But beside of being an ugly showstopper for the migration - driving costs far beyond of what could have been saved by buying the cheaper parts - that's not even the worst case. Perfectly faked SFPs might be accepted by the switch, but you never know if they are really running fine. I don't wish anybody to be called at 3am about the crash of half the servers, because an ISL started to toggle. Or to have increasing performance problems, because every now and then a faked SFP "on the edge of the spec" devours a buffer credit by misinterpreting an R_RDY.
Troubleshooting this can be a pain itself. But the money potentially lost on outages will hardly be compensated by the savings from cheaper SFPs!
I got the confirmation from IBM product management, that IBM itself will only deliver Brocade-branded SFPs for its current b-type SAN portfolio.
So if you have non-Brocade-branded SFPs in your 8G or 16G Brocade switches be aware that they are probably not supported and there could be some unplanned night or weekend working hours for you in the future...