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Mar 04

Brocade is just in a buying mood these days…

Brocade bought SBS.

I don’t know how many of you happen to have looked at the resume I had posted – but I spent a couple of years at Strategic Business Systems (www.sbsplanet.com).

I’m not sure what Brocade is hoping to get out of this.  SBS doesn’t do sales, and doesn’t even really have any influence in the buying process.

SBS has been a pretty successful company – grown by leaps and bounds.  I would never go back to them because they wield their non-compete agreement like a battle-axe and use every opportunity as a chance to hook someone in.

The real problem is that Brocade as a switch manufacturer is on it’s way out.  From a 90% install base they really have nowhere to go but down, and Cisco is gaining very quickly.

I’m not a big fan of Brocade.  I have a brocade switch in my home SAN not because of any preference, but because they are cheap on Ebay.   Their ASIC’s are slow and their licensing is oppressive.

Does this make sense to anyone?

13 comments

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  1. thestorageanarchist.com

    Yup. Total sense.

  2. Jesse

    Ok – don’t just leave us hanging like that. What does Brocade get from buying a small, relitavely unknown, largely regional and professional services provider? SBS has two major strengths – Federal Client Services, and Dell. Those two make up about 80% of their business. Really much focused to be a viable PS organization for Brocade.

    I would actually thing that MTI would have made a better target. As much as I dislike MTI as a whole, and for my own reasons, they have a much more geographically disbursed infrastructure, and if Brocade were to buy them, fire the top 1/3 of the company, they might be able to be salvaged.

  3. I know we talked about this earlier, but for the benefit of others, I’ll comment. I don’t think it will be a great deal of good for them. I know Brocade has had trouble filling PS gigs but where will they fill in? They don’t really engage in storage practices or any other value add. Switches are only really purchased during technology upgrades, migrations, etc… And when they do, storage teams usually add in services which include the switches.
    So what will a broad based services company add to a company that sells hardware that is more or less an add on for other hardware vendors?

  4. Jesse

    That’s the thing – for now, insiders at SBS have told me repeatedly that they are “Maintaining [their] independence.” I wonder how long that will last. Because SBS has just as many engineers who can install McData or Cisco. (In fact there was a mad internal push to get everyone up to speed on Cisco switches)

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I suspect however that they (SBS) will find themselves thrust into the same level of mediocrity that Brocade is currently enjoying.

  5. I can’t comment on SBS, I know nothing about them. I don’t think Brocade needs a huge PS organization, that’s what integrators are for, and the EMC’s a HDS’s of the world have tons of hungry PS content experts (and the customer relationships to execute on) that make Brocade’s PS a big of a redundancy. But that’s just my opinion. There exists the possibility that there are people at Brocade who are smarter than me.

    But your comments about Brocade’s future, I don’t agree with. I don’t see a #3 vendor coming to steal their market share anytime soon, and no matter how big Cisco gets, there will always be a desire by customers to have 2 vendors in the market. You complain about Brocade’s licensing (I agree) but if they were to go away, you don’t think Cisco would take a “we’re the only game in town” approach and make their licensing just as annoying? Slow ASICs, what? Really?

    Have you ever managed a Brocade core? You seem down on Brocade but I wonder if you have the experience to make such broad-sweeping opinions about the product line. Brocade makes a fine switch. Is it better than Cisco? Maybe, maybe not. Is it worse? Same answer. I’ve used McData, Cisco, and Brocade and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

  6. Jesse

    I have to admit my experience with Brocade is a little out-of-date. The last brocade i’ve worked with is the DS-16B2 (3850 I believe) in my basement.

    However – that being said, the reason I’ve not had a lot of recent experience with them is that of the 100 or so switches i’ve installed in the last 12 months, I’ve seen two Brocade switches. Those were a pair of 16 port broace departmental switches connected over diestance via a pair of Eclipse routers. Brocade and McData have been the same company for over a year now, and their products STILL don’t work well together.

    Literally – TWO. The main reason for this, from the customers I’ve dealt with, is people just trust the Cisco name. (The rest of the installs have been about 78/20 Cisco/McData)

    A colleague of mine pointed out to me that when you’re at the top the only place you can go is down. This is a very true statement. Even the almighty EMC is seeing this, they are having to cope with more and more Tier-2 competition from upstarts like FalconStor and Equalogic, and even growing Tier-1 competition from HDS.

    I’ll always love EMC, they have, in my opinion, the most bulletproof storage on the market, as well as the greatest replication technology around. But I’m not naive enough to believe that they will always be on top. You have to work at it, you can just sit back and expect the royalty checks to come in.

    Do that and you end up broke and washed up. Just ask Lindsey Lohan. 😉

  7. The key with any technology company to staying on top, or in this case, holding onto market share, is the ability to innovate. Brocade is an innovator. Now, I will grant that Cisco has done an amazing job – coming strickly from an IP/LAN/WAN background and breaking into the saturated FC switch market and becoming a market leader – all in under 5 years – is a massive accomplishment, and I greatly respect Cisco for the market they have carved out for themselves. But don’t count Brocade out. They haven’t innovated much lately, in fact I’m waiting for more integrated featuresets in switches from both vendors (remember when things like integrated firewalls, intrusion detection, and QoS features started sneaking into core ethernet switches 10 years ago?) – I think the same thing is going to inevitably happen to storage switches. It’s happening now, but too slowly. Right now there is more emphasis on performance than features, but once performance starts to see diminishing returns any year now, feature set will be the next big push all over again.

    As far as the McData thing goes, I totally agree. I have no idea what Brocade was thinking by buying those guys unless they were trying to sneak in the the FICON market by acquiring McData’s mainframe customer base, but I digress. EFCM (aka Connectrix Manager) was the biggest POS software I’ve ever had the pleasure of billing hourly to manage. If you’ve never had the pleasure of working with it, count yourself lucky. McData made great, fast switches, but terrible software.

    Regarding your comment about 2 brocade’s in a year… All I can say is maybe your integrator prefers Cisco. I’ve been to plenty of shops in the last 18 months that have Brocade – and I’m not talking departmental switches. Huge insurance, financial, and energy shops that are completely standardized on Brocade and have absolutely no pain points with them (and thus, no desire to switch vendors). Also, Brocade has a lot more history in the FC business than Cisco does, which is a comfort zone for companies that avoid bleeding edge technologies. Sure, Cisco is Cisco, a proven IP vendor, but they are a relatively new player in storage and it’s not unreasonable to assume they will make a few rookie mistakes. This is becoming less of a problem now, but when I was at GlassHouse in 2005, Cisco was not considered a viable production storage platform. That is different now of course, I would absolutely implement them. In fact, I have no bias really, Cisco, Brocade, EMC, HDS, 3PAR, Unix, Windows – they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and every customer has different requirements where one solution may be a better fit that the other. That’s the beauty of being a consultant. I have my preferences like everyone else, but at the end of the day I will implement whatever the customer says they want.

  8. Jesse

    I suspect that Cisco’s claim to fame will be the mainstreaming of SAN networks. Now I know enough Cisco networking to be dangerous. I know the MDS operating system fairly well. It’s amazing how similar the two are.

    Their ingenuity lies in making a piece of SAN equipment that they can get their networking people to manage. Most companies already have Cisco knowledgable people on staff, and it’s not a great leap from the IP networking to Fabric networking concepts and implementation.

    Cisco incubated the Fabric switches. A little known, wholly owned subsidiary called “Andiamo” developed the SAN product line. I firmly believe that they did it for the ability to ‘cut-and-run’ if it didn’t work out. (A friend had the opportunity to go work for them and I bet wishes she had taken it)

    I know that Cisco’s implementation of “VSANs” and the integrated FCIP solution the comes with the FCIP blades for the 95xx series and the relatively inexpensive 9216i switches, I recommend Cisco first to anyone who is planning on any kind of distance replication solution. The FCIP alone in the 9216i makes for a viable alternative to Gig-E boards in a Symmetrix. 🙂

  9. Another reason why people are seeing fewer and fewer brocades going in, is vendor “pushiness”. I know EMC is pushing cisco heavily, and having used both brocade and cisco, I’m not certain that I don’t prefer the cisco now, though it did take some getting used to. Admittedly, I detest their decision to include IVR functionality with the enterprise license package, which contains almost nothing else of use to most companies, so you have to buy and overly expensive license, to get one bit of functionality that is really pretty necessary….But that’s about the only problem with the mds line. fcip is absolutely awesome, as are most other functionalities.

    Stability is rock solid, and speed is good. Yeah, I guess I am walking towards the totally converted crowd now.

  10. Jesse

    I’m kind of in the same boat – Brocade used to be my comfort zone. I preferred Brocade to McData, for the most part, because their command-line utility was much most intuitive and easy to understand. While McData’s has gotten better, it’s still a pain to navigate through. (I just had to write a simple “how-to” document for a customer using McData switches, it ended up being four pages long and required screen-shots. 😉

    Cisco daunted me at first. I hated the fact that you had to put values in quotes, and I *HATED* their GUI. (As I’ve explained in other parts of this blog, I hate GUI’s in general, but badly written ones are even worse)

    But functionality-wise Cisco has brocade beat hands down. Between FCIP and VSAN’s alone I think Cisco has more to offer,

    Now if ControlCenter would just fully support Cisco, I’d be happy. 🙂 (Adding ‘copy run start’ to the end of a commit process seems like a pretty easy thing to do, doesn’t it?)

  11. Dunno, I just don’t trust controlcenter.

    Case in point. I know I have several unused LUNS. I know because they were mapped, but not masked, and I thought to use them later. Months later, I did use them, but as it was a thousand changes ago, I forgot.

    I’m paranoid. I mean, BLOODY paraonoid. So I use controlcenter to look at associations, no host associated. Bingo, free luns.

    Did I mention I’m BLOODY paranoid? Maybe I should say FREAKISHLY paranoid. A naggind doubt remained, so I looked at all the maskings of the servers. TaDa! It’s masked to a server, both luns.

    Now, if I had trusted controlcenter, where would I be?

    Yes, Fabric and Device manager sucks….But I trust it further, it’s never lied to me.

  12. Julioingelsieous

    Why you ask? Because brocade Senior management never could figue out what to do with their PS division and months after they Acquired SBS they moved most of their PS folks under SBS….
    Now wait for it… then they stuck it to all of them. They cut most of the benefits of their (teddy boys quote) “high priced prima donnas” to the bone. then started pushing them out the door one by one.

    Brocade… what a wonderful place to work

    1. Jesse

      I hear (indirectly, through Linked-In and such) them looking for HDS people from time to time, but it was my understanding that they burned some serious bridges and don’t get EMC business at all anymore..

      Pity – they used to be a great company to work for, I enjoyed my time with them and learned a lot.. I left when i stopped learning and wasn’t allowed to teach.

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