technology shift is obvious. Enterprises
are increasingly networking their storage with Ethernet
. If Fibre Channel lives
on, it will live on as Fibre Channel over Ethernet. And like other technology
domains, there is a demand for a single vendor for all networking gear. It’s
one throat to choke. But what on earth took Brocade so long?

company’s $3 billion acquisition of Foundry Networks this week has been a
long time coming.

marched into the Fibre Channel switching market five years ago and has been forcing Brocade’s hand ever since. Brocade’s
acquisition of rival McData was a clear example of a land grab to fend off
Cisco’s increasing market share, not a step forward in evolving network technology.

Cisco’s leverage as the No. 1 supplier of Ethernet switches has enabled it to
up-sell its Fibre Channel gear to just about every customer it could and
nothing has stemmed this tide.

Finally, Brocade
has made the appropriate counter move and sees the writing on the wall for
Fibre Channel. But is it buying the best company?

Foundry has
all but conceded the enterprise market and has been selling its switches to
metro providers building Ethernet MANs. It suited Foundry’s strengths of
scalability and reliability. However, as a result, for nearly two years the
R&D has been focused principally on building service provider

The remaining
six of the seven dwarfs in the Ethernet market are Extreme, Nortel, ProCurve,
3Com, Enterasys, and Alcatel. Why did Brocade pick a company that concedes that
it has not been focused on the enterprise market? Sharing the same VC partner (Seth
Neiman, a manager partner with Crosspoint Venture Partners) likely had a lot to
do with it.

It might
also have to do with the move towards cloud-based services, where Foundry’s
gear has a solid footing within service providers, and Cisco is traditionally
weak. Cloud-based services are accelerating enterprise interest in MANs. The
same goes for the WAN, although that’s some two years further behind in
development. It’s also likely service provides will have less of a problem
buying Ethernet-based networking gear from Brocade, who has struggled to be
seen as more than just a Fibre Channel networking vendor. Right now, enterprise
networking teams will not buy Brocade (or Foundry) for Ethernet. Period. It’s
too risky and operationally foreign. But it’s possible a more robust service
provider could do it if there was a competitive angle.

Fair play to Brocade on the one throat to choke
story. IT infrastructure and operations professionals are desperate for fewer
vendors to deal with. And maybe one day will be able to describe this as one
hand to shake. Long term it could also mean they will have a viable alternative
to Cisco for end-to-end networking within the datacenter and across the
enterprise worldwide.

By Jo Maitland

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