Switch Makers Take Different Tacks

Brocade partners with OEMs to broaden fibre channel dominance; McData unveils packaged gateway.

Storage switch makers are at a crossroads.

They have three choices: to focus on the current Fibre Channel market, on the storage management software battle or on next-generation technologies such as IP storage. The choice could determine whether users buy whatever switch their storage vendor happens to bundle or whether the switch supplier becomes an important consideration.

Market leaders Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp. this summer will take different paths.

Brocade plans to expand its dominance in Fibre Channel environments through OEM partnerships to enable but not compete against management software makers and to encourage storage and switch bundling, Greg Reyes, chairman and CEO of the San Jose, Calif., company, said in an interview with eWeek.

Earlier this month at its user conference, Brocade announced that Hewlett-Packard Co. and LSI Logic Corp. now certify Brocades high-end SilkWorm 12000 switch, and EMC Corp. will certify it later this month. BMC Software Inc. and Computer Associates International Inc. now interoperate with Brocade products and work with Fabric Access API 2.0, officials said. In addition, new tape products from Sony Electronics Inc. include Brocades switches, as will upcoming network-attached storage products from Network Appliance Inc.

"Solutions will benefit by shielding complexity," Reyes said of the software enabling and switch bundling plans.

A more aggressive tack comes from McData, based in Broomfield, Colo., which already sells SANavigator and other software, in addition to its switches. In the next quarter, the company will demonstrate a gateway that switches iSCSI and Fibre Channel-over-IP all in one box. That will be a blade-based product, said Chairman and CEO Jack McDonnell, who differed with Reyes on switch bundling.

"We have more and more [users] say to us, We want to buy the infrastructure separately. It keeps increasing," McDonnell said.

Users can anticipate more product choices and more aggressive pricing, spurred by newcomers such as Inrange Technologies Corp. and established networking companies such as Cisco Systems Inc.

Charlie Orndorff, CIO at Crossmark Inc., a Plano, Texas, sales and marketing company, runs 8 terabytes of HPs Compaq StorageWorks SAN (storage area network) using Brocade switches but said he understands McDatas approaches, too.

When and if storage interoperability becomes real, then "I agree that [switches are] going to be more of a commodity," Orndorff said. But that wont make him stop caring about his storage suppliers partners.

Inranges specialty is a 256-port product for large switch consolidation projects; Ciscos specialty is switching storage-over-IP environments. Both have promising technology but still lack significant customer wins, industry pundits note.

"I want to know if it meets those open standards," said Orndorff, noting that his recent purchase of a Storage Technology Corp. tape library didnt connect to his SAN as he expected it would.

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