Expanding beyond the storage fabric

Do you still see Brocade and McData as switch vendors? If you do, it may be time for an update, because the two companies have moved their offerings well beyond the fabric.

Last year Brocade made a strategic investment in Tacit Networks, extending its competitive range to WAFS (wide area file systems) and the Tapestry family of applications and services.

At the end of 2005, Tacit extended its remote-office coverage to virtual desktops via a partnership with Softricity, a company that offers application and desktop virtualization software.

There is more: Earlier this year, Tacit acquired Mobility Software and its applications suite, which provides seamless file and e-mail backup, replication, and virtual network shares for mobile users.

Put together all of those connections, and it leads into last week's Brocade announcement of some interesting new products, including a new 32-port, 4Gbps SilkWorm 4900 switch that customers can update to 48 and 64 ports. A stand-alone iSCSI gateway was also part of the announcement, as was an FCIP (Fibre Channel over IP) routing blade for the SilkWorm 48000 and a stand-alone FCIP router.

That's all interesting, but here's the real scoop: On the same day, Brocade announced its acquisition of NuView, a small private software company based in Houston. NuView has made a name for itself in the area of file virtualization, to the point that NetApp is reselling one of its applications.

Let's step back for a second and look at the big picture. Where is Brocade going? Is it just a coincidence that Softricity's application virtualization, NuView's file virtualization, and the foundation for EMC Invista and Fujitsu Eternus VS900 virtualization are somewhat linked to Brocade? I don't think so.

Brocade is not saying much on future products, but at a recent analysts' conference company officers admitted that there is a great synergy between the Tacit and NuView products. I believe "WAFS and NuView fit like hand and glove" were the exact words.

I didn't have to wait long to learn whether Brocade's competitors would respond in kind: McData revealed its own novel strategy last Monday, and its name is ROC.

The acronym has a powerful tone -- ROC stands for remote-office consolidation, "a set of products and services that lets companies consolidate, centrally manage, and protect all remote-office data types," according to McData.

Not surprisingly, one of the products offered with the ROC is SpectraNet, a WAN accelerator, which is actually the Riverbed Steelhead product that McData rebrands and resells under an OEM agreement.

The SpectraNet name appears again in McData's Replicator for Exchange product, essentially an instance of FalconStor IPStor that McData also resells under agreement.

Other ROC products that customers choose include the full range of McData director and fabric switches (no surprise there), plus edge and storage routers. McData complements ROC with service offerings that help customers define and manage their storage network and WAN.

So which of the two vendors has a winning hand? It's hard to tell on paper, because both Brocade and McData's offerings are still evolving and I am pretty sure that future announcements will expand and pinpoint their set of products and services.

For now, let's just remember not to make the mistake of calling them "switch vendors" anymore.

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