Brocade to Buy Foundry Networks – Prelude to Upcoming Converged Ethernet and FCoE Battle

July 21, 2008 – 11:08 pm

Storage I/O trends

The emerging and maturing Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Converged Ethernet, aka Data Center Ethernet, Converged Enhanced Ethernet, Enterprise Ethernet among others marketing names activity is picking up. Today Brocade took a major step to shore up its already announced FCoE and converged Ethernet story which includes new directors and converged host bus adapters
by announcing intentions of buying

Ethernet high performance switching vendor Foundry Networks in a deal valued around $3B USD and some change. Not a bad deal for Foundry, some would say an expensive deal for Brocade, perhaps paying to much, however given some of the recent storage and networking related deals. For example IBM spending around $300M for a startup called XIV who claims to have shipped a few storage systems to a few customers, or, Dell spending about $1.3B to buy EqualLogic who had a few thousand customers (Could be the deal of the century for Dell compared to IBM and XIV, however time will tell), or EMC and some of its recent purchases like RSA, Avamar or bargains like WysDM, Mozy and Iomega not to mention Cisco having not been bashful about dropping some serious coin for standalone companies like Neuspeed (where are they now) for iSCSI as well as Andimao and more recently Nuovo. Regardless of if Mike Klayko (Brocade CEO) paid too much or not, he did what he had to do as part of his continuing activities to re-invent Brocade and leverage their core DNA and business focus of data infrastructures.

Brocade could probably have made a nice business for a few more years like some of the companies they have recently acquired tried to do including McData, CNT, INRANGE and so forth. However the reality is that sooner or later, they too (Brocade) would probably have been acquired by someone perhaps. With the acquisition of Foundry Networks, along with previous announcements for FCoE technologies and their existing products for NAS or file based storage management and iSCSI solutions, Brocade is signaling that they want to fight for survival as opposed to circle the wagons and guard their installed base and wheel house.

With the up-coming Converged Ethernet and FCoE battle royal shaping up to start in about 12 to 18 months, sooner for the early adopters who like to test and kick around technology early, or for those who want to go right to 10GbE today instead of 8Gb Fibre Channel, or, for those who like bleeding edge solutions. The reality even with recent proof of life plug-fest demos and claims of being ready for primetime, core Brocade customers particularly at the high-end of the market tend to be rather risk averse and cautions with their data infrastructure thus moving at a slower pace. For them, upgrading to 8Gb Fibre Channel may be the near term future while watching FCoE and converged Ethernet or converged enhanced Ethernet evolve and being transitioning in a couple of years. For these risk adverse type customers, bleeding edge technology means having a blood bank nearby and on call as downtime and disruption is not an option.

Rest assured, with Ciscopushing hard to stimulate the FCoE market and get people to skip 8Gb FC and switch over to 10GbE, there will be plenty more plug fest and proof of life demos, plenty of trash talking by both sides that will rival some of the best heavy weight match-ups.

Buyers beware, do your home work and if being an early adopter of FCoE and converged networks is right for you, with due diligence do some testing to see how everything really works in your environment from storage systems, to adapters, to switches, to protocol converters and gateways to management and diagnostic software. How does the whole ecosystem that matches your environment work for your scenario. If you are not comfortable with where the FCoE and converged Ethernet technologies and more importantly supporting ecosystem are at, take your time, monitor the situation as it unfolds over the next year or so leading up to the big battle royal between Brocade and Cisco.

Something that I think is interesting is that here we have Brocade and Cisco squaring off in a convergence battle between a general networking vendor (Cisco) and storage centric networking vendor (Brocade), both of whom have been built on organic growth as well as acquisitions. What�s even more interesting is that around 10 years ago back when Brocade was just getting started and Cisco was still trying to figure out Fibre Channel and iSCSI, 3COM had at the time the foresight to put together an alliance of Storage related partners to get into the then emerging SAN market place. The alliance was to include various storage vendors, switch and HBA as well as router or gateway vendors along with data and backup software vendors. Before the program could be officially launched, it was canceled just as all of the promotional material was about to be distributed due to poor finical health of 3COM. With a few exceptions, most of the participants in that early program, which was probably a year or two ahead of its time have either been bought or disappeared altogether. 3COM could have been a major force in a converged LAN and SAN market place instead of now watching Brocade and Cisco form the sidelines.

For now, congratulations to Mike Klayko and crew for demonstrating that they want to put up a fight and provide an alternative for their customers to Cisco and that they are serious about being a serious contender in the data infrastructure solution provider fight. For Cisco, looks like two of your competitors have now become one. Good luck and best wishes to both sides, Brocade and Cisco and I will be watching this battle from ring side as both parties line up and re-align their partner ecosystems.