Brocade Busts an IT Move

Besides new 4-Gbit/s switches, mega-announcement touts services, software, and an IT focus

May 31, 2005

4 Min Read
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Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) is leveraging recent acquisitions in a bid to gain footing with enterprise customers -- and restore some of its battered market position.

In a series of announcements today, the switch vendor outlined new low- and high-end switches, software for provisioning and managing servers and remote site data delivery, and a first-ever foray into data center services.

All this is aimed at improving Brocade's earnings, which have suffered at the hands of rivals, particularly Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). (See Brocade Blasts 'Consultant' Reyes.) In the fiercely competitive Fibre Channel switch arena, Brocade hopes to make the most of its customer base, while building on technology picked up with its acquisition of Therion and its investment in Tacit Networks Inc. (see Brocade's Mystery Buy and Brocade Invests in Tacit).

"We're connected to a lot of servers. We have an incredible customer base, and... now that we have been shipping bladed modules, we are jazzed about the blade server market," says Tom Buiocchi, VP of marketing.

Here's a rundown of Brocade's news:

  • New director: The company unveiled a high-end, director-class, Fibre Channel switch meant to compliment the SilkWorm 24000. Dubbed the SilkWorm 48000, the switch is a 256-port unit with 1-, 2-, and 4-Gbit/s FC connectivity. While it's only available to OEMs (end users are scheduled to get it sometime in the second half of 2005), this is the first director to offer 4-Gbit/s.NOTE: In contrast with McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), whose 256-port director features 10-Gbit/s interswitch link (ISL) trunking, Brocade thinks customers will be happy to trunk multiple 4-Gbit/s links into 32-Gbit/s ISLs (see McData's Ready for Rollout).

  • New low-end switch: A new SilkWorm 200E with 8 or 16 ports also features 4-Gbit/s and up to 16 Gbit/s ISL trunking and is shipping to OEMs as well.

    NOTE: Brocade clearly hopes to build on its first-strike entry in the 4-Gbit/s market, which came about with the SilkWorm 4100 midrange switch late last year (see Brocade First With 4-Gig, Last With CUP). It is resold by Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW). HP also has a blade version of the 4-Gbit/s switch. Notably, though, blades for Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), IBM, and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) do not yet run at 4-Gbit/s (see Brocade Intros SAN Switch Module).

  • Tapestry IT lifecycle management series: Brocade is breaking into the market for data center software. There are two new products: Application Resource Manager (ARM) is a Windows/Linux-compatible package that works with any Brocade switches to automatically provision blade servers (including hardware configuration, operating system images, and storage info). A second product, the Tapestry Wide Area File Services (WAFS) package, runs under Windows and supports fast delivery of data to remote sites.

    NOTE: Brocade's ARM is a packaging of the "boot-from-SAN" capability that a range of vendors already offer, including IBM for its blade server. Clearly, Brocade hopes to pluck low-hanging fruit that would otherwise go outside the company. ARM is in beta with a handful of customers. Tapestry WAFS is Tacit's WAFS software, but Brocade has become the exclusive distributor of Tacit to OEM channels, and Tapestry WAFS is a rebranded version of the package.

  • Professional and support services: Brocade has already started to work more closely with about 15 of its largest customers, Buiocchi says, and it is building this out into a formal services offering that will give "over-the-shoulder and OEM expertise" to customers in the areas of SAN design, installation, and maintenance.

    NOTE: This is the first time ever that Brocade has offered services. While Buiocchi won't say how many folk it's added to the effort, he claims the company's been "pretty aggressive" in hiring.

Will all of this work? Right now, the jury's out. Brocade and McData have both taken a beating from a generally soft market and inroads by Cisco. Though McData claims to have pulled ahead a bit, its revenue is down 6 percent sequentially, and its own high-end director has suffered in the wake of apparent customer indecisiveness (see McData: 'We Gained Share').In its favor, Brocade is taking a multipronged approach that builds on its strengths in Fibre Channel among key customers. On the downside, by taking this stand, Brocade is banking its future on Fibre Channel. "We feel our Multiprotocol Router has been and is being deployed where IP is needed in Fibre Channel SANs," says Buiocchi. Meanwhile, he says Brocade's 4-Gbit/s SilkWorm 4100 accounted for 15 percent of overall sales this past quarter, up from 5 percent the previous quarter.

Further, though Brocade's been careful to acquire its data center software instead of casting out on its own, there's a raft of competitive WAFS and server provisioning wares afloat in the market, with more being launched. Brocade has its work cut out to stay ahead of the trends. Still, Buiocchi is confident. "We're taking our SAN business into new areas," he asserts. If Brocade can avoid losing customers that would otherwise opt for solutions the switch vendor doesn't have, it might at least maintain its footing, and maybe find openings for new growth.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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