Brocade Launches Meteor

Vendor hopes new enterprise director switch will encourage customer upgrades

April 26, 2004

3 Min Read
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Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) demonstrated today that, contrary to industry rumblings, it's not giving up on the director switch market to concentrate on the low end (see Brocade & McData's Paths Diverge).

The switch market leader released the SilkWorm 24000, its highest-end platform yet, formerly code-named Meteor, a non-blocking, full-duplex switch that one Brocade source says storage vendors will probably price about 15 percent higher than the vendor's Silkworm 12000 (see Brocade Intros New SilkWorm Director).

But rather than try to make its mark with technological advantages over the competition, Brocade is counting on its new switch to keep customers from switching vendors. The new director has no new features that competitors Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) or McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) lack. Instead, it addresses previous limits in Brocade's SilkWorm 12000, a move Brocade hopes will divert any potential defections.

For instance, the SilkWorm 24000 is a single-domain, 128-port switch. Current Brocade customers have to daisy-chain two 64-port SilkWorm 12000 switches to get 128 ports. The new switch helps mainframe customers scale their wares, since they are typically limited to two director switches.

These are features already supported by Cisco and McData. But Brocade is looking to win market share in the high end by leveraging its dominance in the low end and midrange, ensuring customers don't go to its competitors for features they now have with Brocade as well. Further, it's touting its platform as a launching pad for advanced features.This is the most competitive director switch ever for Brocade,” says Tom Buiocchi, Brocade VP of marketing. "This is a product line extension, more so than anything... Customers hate ripping and replacing.”

Brocade’s line of SilkWorm switches -- beginning with two low-end Dazzler switches announced a month ago -- are all built on the same software code base, operating system, and firmware (see Brocade Dazzler Starts Low). That makes for easy upgrades. For instance, customers can use the same chassis to move up from the 12000 to the 24000.

Buiocchi says customers will not only be spared forklift upgrades by going with the 24000 but also will be able to tap new technologies, such as 4-Gbit/s and 10-Gbit/s speeds, iSCSI and FCIP, and built-in fabric intelligence -- when they become available.

This claim puts pressure on Brocade. Traditionally, first-mover advantage has gone a long way toward winning director customers. So Brocade’s easy upgrade path will only go so far if it can’t beat the others to deliver advanced technologies.

There are other challenges, too: Brocade has not fared as well on the high end as with the rest of the switch market. Even last quarter, when Brocade announced 100 new customers for the 12000, some noted its growth in the enterprise lagged behind the low-end and midrange. And despite McData’s sales slump the past six months, its technology is still directly challenging Brocade's in the market (see McData Slashes Guidance – Again).Brocade is having no trouble getting its switches qualified with storage system vendors. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) previously announced they will offer the 24000 with the SAN systems (see SAN Snacks From SNW and HP Aims to Dazzle SMBs). Today, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) said it has added the 24000 to its Connectrix family of directors (see EMC Offers Brocade Director ). IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) have qualified the switch or will soon.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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