Brocade has slowly but surely been preparing for this transition for some time. The first step was investing heavily in two companies. Earlier this month, the company invested $7.5 million in a minority ownership in Tacit Networks of South Plainfield, N.J., which allowed Brocade to offer WAFS (wide-area file services) to enterprise customers on Microsofts Windows Server 2003 platform.
The company also announced the acquisition of Therion Software Corp. of Redmond, Wash., earlier this month—a company that develops software management products.
Those deals laid the groundwork for the companys latest announcement—an entirely new family of application infrastructure solutions that extend Brocades reach beyond storage networking toward the realm of servers and applications.
The first two applications to be introduced are the Tapestry ARM (Application Resource Manager) and the Tapestry WAFS (wide-area file services). The ARM is a software and hardware tool that allows a bladed server with no disks to automatically boot from the SAN (storage area network) and provision itself quickly, making it ready to run an application in two to three minutes.
Thats a far cry from the traditional method, which takes hours per server, said Tom Buiocchi, vice president of worldwide marketing at the San Jose, Calif.-based company.
"Think of a bar metal server in a rack of servers, like a bladed server. Many companies are buying those by the hundreds or thousands because they are inexpensive and flexible," he said.
"But its difficult to manage so many servers running so many different applications, and the most difficult part is that you have to personalize each server with an operating system image, configuration utilities and device drivers, and then you have to provision it to understand what storage it needs to connect to and what media it can access over the SAN."
The second part of the Tapestry solution, the WAFS, is a wide area file service based on Microsofts Windows platform. To use this system, organizations install a central Tapestry WAFS core appliance in the data center and remote "edge" appliances at each site. The result, Buiocchi said, is the ability to share files over a WAN (wide area network) more easily, with better access and security.
Along with the Tapestry announcement, Brocade extended the SilkWorm family of switches and directors, effectively extending 4G/sec technology throughout the line.
On the high end, Brocade announced the SilkWorm 48000 director with 256 ports and 4G/sec speed, doubling the density and speed of the SilkWorm 24000. On the low end, Brocade announced the 200E, its lowest-cost switch, which also uses 4G technology. The 200E starts at eight ports and has a ports-on-demand feature that allows users to scale to 16 ports.
Together, these announcements signify Brocades movement into shared storage—a direction Buiocchi said makes a great deal of sense.
"The entire application infrastructure—the servers, the storage networks, the storage devices and the applications—those are the issues customers want to solve," he said.
"And because we touch the storage and servers, and we can hold data volumes that contain application data and operating system images, weve got a great place from which to extend the value up to the server side and the application side."
Brocades approach makes sense for many reasons, said Brad ONeill, senior analyst at Taneja Group of Hopkinton, Mass. Not only does the company enjoy consistent loyalty from customers who are bound to follow them to new arenas, but it has the ability to expand, the funds and the drive.
"They have realized that they have developed an extremely trusted brand within the data path, which is a hard and expensive thing to do," ONeill said.
"End users will be willing to allow Brocade to help them create more efficiencies with how they move application images or how they consolidate file data into that fabric since they have already entrusted them with 100 terabytes of mission-critical data."
That realization—plus the knowledge that Cisco may always be the market leader in the Fibre Channel switch market—probably served as the impetus that drove Brocade in this direction, he said.
"Their visionary folks realize they dont need to restrict their vision of the future to this parochial vision of transport at the switch," he said. "Its a bold but coherent move."