Brocade Snubs Multivendor Demo

Fibre Channel leader refuses to directly participate in SNIA's switch interop test. Plus ca change...?

March 22, 2003

4 Min Read
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While the rest of the Fibre Channel industry is ostensibly eager to prove their products are interoperable, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) stands alone in its belief that most customers are happy with a single-vendor SAN infrastructure.

Brocade has opted out of a multivendor switch demonstration, sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), scheduled for next month's Storage Networking World (SNW) trade show in Phoenix, Ariz.

But whether the company likes it or not, Brocade's switches will be part of the demonstration, as both IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) will be providing rebranded versions of its fabric switches.

"Brocade is fully supporting having us work with their switch, but they don't want to promote multivendor fabrics," says Phil Mills, chairman of SNIA's Supported Solutions Forum (SSF) and a senior technical staff member in IBM's storage systems group. The SSF is organizing the interoperability demo at SNW.

Every other major FC switch vendor -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Inrange Technologies Corp. (Nasdaq: INRG), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) -- is planning to participate. Storage systems vendors EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), HP, IBM, and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) are also planning to plug into the demo.So why isn't Brocade interested in attending this party? According to Brocade spokeswoman Fenella Tigner, "We are not seeing that much demand for multivendor fabrics among customers today, but we certainly will work with our partners to assist customers who are looking for it."

Another possibility is that Brocade doesn't see any need to play nice with other switch vendors, as it owns a majority share of the FC switch market. In a recent report, Dell'Oro Group estimated that Brocade's worldwide share of the SAN switch market was 58 percent in 2002. Its next closest competitor, McData, had a 29 percent share (see SAN Switch Sales Swell in 02).

The charter of SNIA's SSF is to test and certify multivendor storage networking configurations, which the respective vendors then agree to fully support. Mills says the SNW switch event is only a demonstration, but he says the group's "strong intent" is to follow the interop demo within three months with multivendor SAN switch solution sets.

"The point is, while putting this stuff together may have been impossible a few years ago, it's now possible," says Mills.

Think of the SSF's supported solutions sets as "N+1" certifications. Whereas inter-vendor certifications are typically negotiated between two companies, the SSF brings together three or more. For example, in the case of the multivendor switch solutions, IBM would decide which multivendor switch fabric -- say, McData and Brocade -- it wants to support with its storage arrays.In October 2002, SNIA staged a multivendor switch plugfest at SNW in Orlando, Fla., but this was not a fully functional SAN, according to association officials. In that demo and others like it, switches from different vendors "haven't been able to do anything other than discover each other," says Sheila Childs, SNIA's chairwoman and a VP at Legato Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: LGTO). (See Storage OEMs Warm Up to Cisco.)

The latest effort by the SSF is to move beyond simply claiming to be interoperable and have vendors actually back that up with support contracts. "Customers want to know that they can buy our switch and swap it out for another vendor's switch -- not that they'd want to -- and know that it's just going to work," says Mike Naylor, director of product marketing at Inrange. "We're trying to prove that."

The vendors involved in the SSF demo started discussing the multivendor switch solutions last June and assembled equipment starting in December in SNIA's Colorado Springs technical testing facility (in a space previously occupied by Compaq). That entire switch setup will be transplanted to Phoenix for SNW next month.

Notwithstanding the lack of Brocade's full participation, Mills says he's encouraged by the level of cooperation in preparing for the multivendor switch demo.

"When we first started this, people said, 'You're not going to be able to do this. These are competitors, they're strong companies, they're not going to work together,' " he says. "But once you get past the IBM hat or the HP hat, we're pretty much the same kind of people. We've had a fun time, and we think we're doing something important."Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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