Could Huawei buy Brocade?

October 11, 2009 – 11:25 pm

Disclosure: I have no connection to Huawei. I own no stock in, nor have I worked for Brocade as an employee; however I did work for three years at SAN vendor INRANGE which was acquired by CNT. However I left to become an industry analyst prior to the acquisition by McData and well before Brocade bought McData. Brocade is not a current client; however I have done speaking events pertaining to general industry trends and perspectives at various Brocade customer events for them in the past.

Is Brocade for sale?

Last week a Wall Street Journal article mentioned Brocade (BRCD) might be for sale.

BRCD has a diverse product portfolio for Fibre Channel, Ethernet along with the emerging Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) market and a whos who of OEM and channel partners. Why not be for sale, good timing for investors, CEO Mike Klayko and his team have arguably done a good job of shifting and evolving the company.

Generally speaking, lets keep in perspective, everything is always for sale, and in an economy like now, bargains are everywhere. Many business are shopping, its just a matter of how visible the shopping for a seller or buyer is along with motivations and objectives including shareholder value.

Consequently, the coconut wires are abuzz with talk and speculation of who will buy Brocade or perhaps who Brocade might buy among other Merger and Acquisition (M and A) activity of who will buy who. For example, who might buy BRCD, why not EMC (they sold McData off years ago via IPO), or IBM (they sold some of their networking business to Cisco years ago) or HP (currently an OEM partner of BRCD) as possible buyers?

Last week I posted on twitter a response to a comment about who would want to buy Brocade with a response to the effect of why not a Huawei to which there was some silence except for industry luminary Steve Duplessie (have a look to see what Steve had to say).

Part of being an analyst IMHO should be to actually analyze things vs. simply reporting on what others want you to report or what you have read or hear elsewhere. This also means talking about scenarios that are of out of the box or in adjacent boxes from some perspectives or that might not be in-line with traditional thinking. Sometimes this means breaking away and thinking and saying what may not be obvious or practical. Having said that, lets take a step back for a moment as to why Brocade may or might not be for sale and who might or may not be interested in them.

IMHO, it has a lot to do with Cisco and not just because Brocade sees no opportunity to continue competing with the 800lb guerilla of LAN/MAN networking that has moved into Brocades stronghold of storage network SANs. Cisco is upsetting the table or apple cart with its server partners IBM, Dell, HP, Oracle/Sun and others by testing the waters of the server world with their UCS. So far I see this as something akin to a threat testing the defenses of a target before actually full out attacking.

In other words, checking to see how the opposition responds, what defense are put up, collect G2 or intelligence as well as how the rest of the world or industry might respond to an all out assault or shift of power or control. Of course, HP, IBM, Dell and Sun/Oracle will not take this move into their revenue and account control goes un-noticed with initial counter announcements having been made some re-emphasize relationship with Brocade along with their recent acquisition of Ethernet/IP vendor Foundry.

Now what does this have to do with Brocade potentially being sold and why the title involving Huawei?

Many of the recent industry acquisitions have been focused on shoring up technology or intellectual property (IP), eliminating a competitor or simply taking advantage of market conditions. For example, Datadomain was sold to EMC in a bidding war with NetApp, HP bought IBRIX, Oracle bought or is trying to buy Sun, Oracle also bought Virtual Iron, Dell bought Perot after HP bought EDS a year or so ago while Xerox bought ACS and so the M and A game continues among other deals.

Some of the deals are strategic, many being tactical, Brocade being bought I would put in the category of a strategic scenario, a bargaining chip or even pawn if you prefer in a much bigger game that is more than about switches, directors, HBAs, LANs, SANs, MANSs, WANs, POTS and PANs (Checkout my  book “Resilient Storage Networks”-Elsevier)!

So with conversations focused around Cisco expanding into servers to control the data center discussion, mindset, thinking, budgets and decision making, why wouldnt an HP, IBM, Dell let alone a NetApp, Oracle/Sun or even EMC want to buy Brocade as a bargaining chip in a bigger game? Why not a Ciena (they just bought some of Nortels assets), Juniper or 3Com (more of a merger of equals to fight Cisco), Microsoft (might upset their partner Cisco) or Fujitsu (Their Telco group that is) among others?

Then why not Huawei, a company some may have heard of, one that others may not have.

Who is Huawei you might ask?

Simple, they are a very large IT solutions provider who is also a large player in China with global operations including R&D in North America and many partnerships with U.S. vendors. By rough comparison, Cisco most recently reported annual revenue are about 36.1B (All are USD), BRCD about 1.5B, Juniper about $3.5B and 3COM about $1.3B and Huawei at about 23B USD with a year over year sales increase of 45%. Huawei has previous partnerships with storage vendors including Symantec and Falconstor among others. Huawei also has had partnership with 3com (H3C), a company that was first of the LAN vendors to get into SANs (pre-maturely) beating Cisco easily by several years.

Sure there would be many hurdles and issues, similar to the ones CNT and INRANGE had to overcome, or McData and CNT, or Brocade and McData among others. However in the much bigger game of IT account and thus budget control is played by HP, IBM, and Sun/Oracle among others, wouldn’t maintaining a dual-source for customers networking needs make sense, or, at least serve as a check to Cisco expansion efforts? If nothing else, maintaining the status quo in the industry for now, or, if the rules and game are changing, wouldn’t some of the bigger vendors want to get closer to the markets where Huawei is seeing rapid growth?

Does this mean that Brocade could be bought? Sure.
Does this mean Brocade cannot compete or is a sign of defeat? I don’t think so.
Does this mean that Brocade could end up buying or merging with someone else? Sure, why not.
Or, is it possible that someone like Huawei could end up buying Brocade? Why not!

Now, if Huawei were to buy Brocade, which begs the question for fun, could they be renamed or spun off as a division called HuaweiCade or HuaCadeWei? Anything is possible when you look outside the box.

Nuff said for now, food for thought.

Cheers – gs

Greg Schulz – StorageIO, Author “The Green and Virtual Data Center” (CRC)