Brocade today announced its intention to acquire Vyatta, which makes a software-based router. Built on open-source software, Vyatta's Network OS can be deployed on an Intel x86 server as a physical router. Alternately, you can purchase VM-ready versions for VMware, Xen and KVM for use in private and public clouds.
Brocade’s product portfolio is heavy on physical and silicon assets but weak when it comes to virtual networking. The acquisition will deliver software networking products, including the router and a firewall, that will let Brocade move toward being a more complete networking provider and further away from the old world of Fibre Channel networking.
Vyatta's virtual routing and networking capability will be useful to Brocade in burgeoning OpenStack deployments for private clouds, and will extend existing commercial use in public clouds like Amazon and Rackspace. There is tidy overlap with existing service provider customers who are receptive to Brocade's products for 100-Gbit support, high density and practical pricing.
Note: Vyatta is a router, not a virtual switch. It does not duplicate existing software switching solutions.
Tackling Cisco Cloud Services
A key target for Vyatta will be Cisco's Cloud Services Router (CSR), which Cisco promotes for use on cloud platforms such as Amazon. Much to customer annoyance, Cisco has kneecapped CSR performance at 50 Mbps, even though multigigabit performance is easily possible. This performance cap lets Cisco maximize licensing revenue per unit and also prevent cannibalization of hardware sales of its ASR platform.
Vyatta, already commonly used on Amazon today, has nothing to lose with an aggressive pricing strategy against Cisco.
On the other hand, Brocade urgently needs to build relationships with VMware and Microsoft, but especially with VMware. Why? Consider that in InformationWeek’s 2013 Virtualization Management Survey, 58% of respondents said they have a one-hypervisor strategy, and more than 60% said they are using VMware as that hypervisor. Meanwhile, Cisco has a significant partnership with EMC/VMware and has strong leadership in virtual networking with Nexus 1000V software.
In an interview, Brocade admitted that discussions with VMware will be "hairy." The Automated Migration of Port Profiles (AMPP) solution is good but not fully integrated.
Of course, relations between Cisco and VMware remain strained after VMware’s Nicira acquisition. VMware staffers continue to be hostile to Cisco in discussions across the globe, which may create an opening for Brocade.
Although Vyatta doesn't make hardware today, it would not take much for Brocade to acquire hardware with an Intel motherboard and start building a WAN routing platform. However, Brocade wouldn't confirm whether it planned to go down this path.
Not Quite SDN
While Vyatta and Brocade are positioning this acquisition as being about software-defined networking (SDN), this is somewhat overstated. What Vyatta has built is a software network platform that runs on standard Intel hardware and supports common routing protocols such as OSPF and BGP.
Vyatta is "made” of software, but the products are not SDN today. On the other hand, you can be certain that they will be extended to support SDN capabilities in very near future. Still, it’s closer to the truth than what a lot of other companies are doing in attempting the "SDN-washing" of their product lines.
A Brocade Firewall
Vyatta also has a software firewall that Brocade can take advantage of. The firewall uses the same operating system as the routing platform, so it could be both a physical and a virtual firewall. Today, firewalls are purchased by networking teams and operated as part of the network infrastructure. There is limited differentiation among products. Thus, strong vendor support and integration could lead to successful sales for Brocade. Brocade could rapidly build sales of firewalls as a network product. Execs said in an interview that this is "a future vision" and a natural extension of the business.
Vyatta’s firewall supports all the usual features, such as IPSec and SSL VPNs and Web filtering, which could also potentially lead Brocade, via more acquisitions, into a full-blown security practice. After all, there are plenty of smaller security startups that would be better off as part of a bigger company. Interesting times.