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Early Incumbency in FCoE: Does It Matter?

Transitions tend to happen so slowly in the storage industry that observers sometime refer to it as the "snorage" industry. That industry dynamic is fantastic if you're lucky and good enough to achieve incumbency. Profitable Ms. Incumbent Vendor gets to focus on broadening her portfolio while her products glide through a friendly ecosystem of OEMs, channel partners, ISVs, and end-users. Conversely, poor Mr. Late-to-Market Vendor wallows in an expensive and frustrating world of futility. He works three times harder with a hostile ecosystem that asks again and again why they should consider qualifying, selling, or buying another product.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet is a classic example of a glacially slow "snorage" transition. Although the industry has been talking about it now for almost two years, FCoE is an emerging market that today consists of products with prices and form-factors that are really suited only for proof of concept and not for deployment in production environments. I expect just the early adopter phase of the 10-Gbit/s FCoE lifecycle to be counted in terms of years. So if vendors can't position themselves early on with product shipments as profitable Ms. Incumbent, they have to establish early FCoE incumbency in the hearts and minds of IT professionals. That means for the foreseeable future it will be a war of education and brand marketing to shape the perceptions of data center managers.

The results of the "March 2009 IT Brand Pulse Leader Surveys" provide some insight into which vendors are succeeding in affecting the perceptions of IT professionals about their position in the FCoE market. In the storage, server, and networking surveys there were no surprises with EMC, HP, and Cisco selected by IT professionals as the respective market leaders. However, over 10 percent of the IT pros selected NetApp as the "Storage" market leader, while over 20 percent selected NetApp as the "FCoE Storage" market leader.

Similarly, less than 5 percent of the IT pros selected Brocade/Foundry as the "Networking" market leader, while over 15 percent selected Brocade as the "FCoE Switch" market leader. In addition, Emulex was selected most as the FCoE market leader over QLogic, the Fibre Channel adapter market share leader.

The FCoE technology inflection and/or better marketing appear to be favoring NetApp, Brocade, and Emulex.

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