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For a while now, storage networking leader Brocade has talked about providing the complete data center network--a cool notion that rang hollow to all but the most single-minded storage pros. Problem was, Ethernet was a mystery to the company, and in the slow-growing Fibre Channel storage area network market, it found itself an encumbered partner for vendors such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM with the prospect of Converged Enhanced Ethernet on the horizon. As Brocade CEO Mike Klayko puts it, "the industry is at an inflection point."
Klayko solves the Ethernet mystery
But the goal isn't to best Cisco at its own game, nor is it to outwit Foundry's usual competitors: HP, Extreme Networks, and 3Com. Rather, Brocade hopes to parley its dominance in storage networking and Foundry's excellent technology into a combination that will be catnip for storage kingpins EMC, HP, and IBM and that lets the company expand beyond the data center.
With Foundry's product line, Brocade can sell a full network infrastructure offering, including data center, edge, and even wide area networking, rather than just storage. That puts Brocade on equal footing with its one storage networking rival, Cisco, and lets it play comfortably with competitors like HP's ProCurve and Nortel Networks, to name two. Brocade isn't giving up its favored storage companion position with partners like IBM and EMC. Rather, it lets them offer a single-vendor network solution from Brocade rather than a mixed environment. What IT exec doesn't prefer "just one neck to choke?"
AN ALL-ETHERNET WORLD
The acquisition also is a good move because Fibre Channel, Brocade's bailiwick, will eventually give way to Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), which standardizes on Ethernet for both data and storage networking. That approach simplifies network architecture since both data and storage can traverse a single pair of redundant links. CEE makes Ethernet a reliable transport by adding features such as congestion management, frame scheduling, and CEE device discovery, which are designed to ensure that critical data movement, like storage, is prioritized across an Ethernet fabric. Gone will be the days of separate SAN and Ethernet protocols.
Along with being better positioned against Cisco, Brocade stands to compete with Alcatel-Lucent, HP ProCurve, Nortel, and other infrastructure vendors that sell everything from switches and routers to WAN accelerators and PBX systems. Brocade wants to own the data center, but it's going to have to contend with the desire of many architects to use one switch vendor everywhere. That may be a trick, given that most of its current sales come through partnerships with storage vendors.