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Brocade's Jim McHugh on the Brocade-Foundry merger, data center networks

Earlier this year, Brocade hired former Nortel enterprise networking chief Jim McHugh as its chief marketing officer. SearchNetworking.com caught up with McHugh at Interop last week. In this two-part Q&A, we asked him about the progress of the Brocade-Foundry merger and his company's product roadmap for data center network infrastructure and campus LAN.

Earlier this year, Brocade hired former Nortel enterprise networking chief Jim McHugh as its chief marketing officer....

SearchNetworking.com caught up with McHugh at Interop last week. In this two-part Q&A, we asked him about the progress of the Brocade-Foundry merger and his company's product roadmap for data center network infrastructure and campus LAN.

 

What's your sense of how the Brocade-Foundry merger has gone? Has Brocade, the storage networking vendor, successfully integrated Foundry and its data center network infrastructure products?
I think at the genetic level, Brocade got what it needed and what it wanted from the acquisition. You've got to recognize that the Brocade leadership team did what a lot of leadership teams totally miss and are not as successful with. They recognized that their product and solution space was evolving and changing and if they didn't fundamentally change, they would become dated and fail.… The best way to think about it is the old Gandhi quote about "be the change you desire." Brocade strategically decided that they were going to drive the transition in the market. They weren't going to be victimized by it. 

When you say transition, you mean the shift toward converged enhanced Ethernet and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) in the data center network infrastructure industry?
I keep seeing parallels between convergence in the data center and what we went through a decade ago when convergence referred to voice and video. If you look at the companies that failed and no longer exist, [they] were leaders at that time and … they failed to adapt. I think Brocade is clearly not making any of those mistakes. Brocade recognized the asset they purchased. It was about switching, routing and IP genetics. In fairness, it wasn't a channel capability. Foundry was a direct sales motion company. It wasn't a broadly visible company. It was really niche-y. But they got the genetics to start understanding convergence at a very intimate and customer-driven level. The state of Foundry integration is that Brocade has rationalized that R&D investment and fully integrated it into the solutions you will see this year. It is one Brocade now. They didn't spend a lot of time allowing them to run parallel and develop a comfortable independent zone within Brocade. They were very aggressive about bringing Foundry up to enterprise-class quality standards, process standards, productivity standards, as well as building this combined solution for what the ideal solution for customers was when you look at convergence and as you look at cloud computing from end to end.

In Part 2 of our Q&A with Jim McHugh, we discuss the future of campus LAN technology.
 

The other thing is, if you believe in cloud computing, there's this trend that nobody talks about -- applications and information. They're actually migrating out of the data center. They're now becoming these virtualized things rather than a physical instance. So I actually believe the more relevant thing that most people don't recognize is that your applications and information are no longer going to be exclusively physically bound. It gives customers the ability to extend, move or adapt those to what the best economic model or best business model is for them. Protecting application performance and maintaining data integrity are really the big challenges this industry has over the next decade. It's not about getting Fibre Channel traffic and Ethernet traffic to run on the same wire. When we look at this problem, we're looking at it at a much higher level. We've been exceptional at assuring data integrity for years. If you look at the Foundry asset around application delivery, we've got a deep set of expertise around application optimization and the ability to scale and maintain application performance across a diverse environment. Those are the kind of assets a company needs to be a leader in cloud. 

Do you have a sense of how the old Foundry customers are taking to the Brocade-Foundry experience?
I've talked to a fair number of customers. Brocade has been very consistent about communicating that we are a networking company now. The Foundry acquisition wasn't a convenience thing, a toe in the water. It fundamentally changed Brocade's charter and mandate as a company. The customers that gravitated to Foundry loved the high performance, loved the depth of features, loved the economies and efficiencies of using Foundry but maybe didn't like some of the startup behaviors that Foundry demonstrated. They really liked the professionalism, the depth of services and focus, and the commitment to quality and service that Brocade represents.

I think there are some customers who are still waiting to see the proof. They want to see how we, Brocade and the integrated company, move the Foundry value proposition forward. And I think this year is the year we will demonstrate that. 

What sort of cultural changes or process changes has Brocade had to make in order to understand the needs and requirements of Foundry customers?
One of the beneficial and important parts of the acquisition of Foundry was this direct customer engagement. In Brocade's [storage] world, Brocade had six customers. Obviously that doesn't scale very well. Foundry had a little bit better. Maybe Foundry had 600 or 6,000 customers. But it's really about getting to 60,000 customers. Culturally, I think we've taken one step toward having a customer driven and a very scalable, lead-generation, customer support, customer awareness driven environment. I think that's one of the reasons I'm the chief marketing officer of Brocade. We've got some pretty transformational stuff that needs to happen that Brocade was very focused at, that Foundry was good at; but Foundry may have scaled as much as it could in the state it was in. We need a highly scalable model if we are going to be able to scale to the level of networking leadership that's in our roadmap.

So with the combined "genetics" of Brocade and Foundry, what is the roadmap for the data center network infrastructure at Brocade?
I think the data center is where Brocade is the strongest right now. It's also where Brocade is the most uniquely positioned. And I'd say the data center is also where Brocade is the most aligned with our customers. The reason I say that is, if you're familiar with Jeffrey Moore's adoption curve, and you think about the right hand side of it where you have the late majority folks, where people say the data center is potentially in some transformation. Let's say I discount that and say my data center works fine. I can run VMware and Hyper-V. I can move and replicate these virtual environments and scale. And I can use my existing SAN. I have all these plug-ins and all this capability that I can actually see how those virtual machines manifest themselves into my storage network using great Fibre Channel solutions. I can replicate. I have all the value proposition of a great storage area network. What's broken? Do I really want to put storage networking on the same network [as the data network]? I'm not sure I understand why putting everything on one cable is a great idea, especially if I'm not using up those two trunked 1 Gigabit interfaces coming in and out of the box. So there's a fair amount of customers that say it works fine. Brocade is not backing away. We're going to continue to iterate, evolve and extend Fibre Channel. 16 Gigabit is right around the corner. And the DCX platform, our flagship product, supports FCoE. In the future, it's going to support converged enhanced Ethernet. So we're going to take those customers and let them move forward … and continue to grow their existing infrastructure.

More on data center network infrastructure

At Interop, the leading networking vendors debated the future of flat, Layer 2 data center network architecture

 

Does a single  center data >FCoE>make economic and operational sense?

How important is the race for 10 GbE core switch port density?

With a unified storage and networking fabric, the IT organization must determine who is in charge.

On the other side of the equation, we've got the MLX, our high-end core box, our flagship in Ethernet and the switch/routing space. That box as a data center aggregator supports FCoE today. It will support CEE in the future. So customers who are kind of looking for data center aggregation that can support these devices as they put toes in the water, we've got a great answer there. So nobody has to throw anything away. It's not, "Your data center is out of date; you need to rip it out and put in this integrated thing that we have that puts all these things together." There are a lot of customers out there, maybe about half of them, who right now feel threatened by that message and are largely rejecting it. I think Brocade can go into that and say, "You're OK. If something is not broken and something doesn't dramatically improve your simplicity of management, it's probably not a good business decision."

What about those who want to be early adopters?
What's not in this picture is the left hand side (of the adoption curve), the early adopters who want to be on the cutting edge, who believe that if this is new, it must be a great idea. Now, you've got to have the admonition that, if you remember the people who bought voice over IP solutions back in 1998, most of those got ripped out by 2001 because they simply weren't ready for enterprise deployment. Ultimately, they were in the second and third generation. But we're in the second generation [with FCoE, etc.] so I give that admonition to customers. But Brocade has this technology briefing in New York City on June 9. We're going to talk about what we can do for the early adopters. We understand that some people want to go greenfield. They want to put in a rack. They want converged end nodes up and down the rack, and they want a fabric which is fully converged, easy to deploy, clearly simplifies their data center, is managed in one domain, and is cost effective for the first 20 nodes and cost effective for the next 1,000 nodes.

We believe we can deliver that value proposition better than anyone else. If you want to see something that will really speak to how you take the genetics of Foundry and the genetics of Brocade and create something that nobody else can create, that's what we're going to show. We really think we've got the whole adoption spectrum really well covered. And we don't have a dog in this fight. I'm happy if customers are laggards, and I'm happy if customers want to go give it a shot and try to make this work in a first-generation product.

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