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Campus LAN: Part 2 of Q&A with Brocade's Jim McHugh

Earlier this year, Brocade hired networking industry veteran Jim McHugh as its chief marketing officer. McHugh is the former head of HP ProCurve and more recently served as the head of Nortel's enterprise networking business. SearchNetworking.com caught up with McHugh at Interop last week. In part 2 of our Q&A, we asked him about the roadmap for campus network technology at Brocade.

What is Brocade's plan for campus LAN? Is campus network technology going to be a priority for you? Absolutely....

Brocade did not get into the Foundry business to back away from the footprint that Foundry had. The value of that asset was turning Brocade into a full networking company. I freely admit that some agendas are coming into the market that may or may not be successful. But I think we need to be positioned to be dynamic and follow where customer buying behavior goes. So you're going to see a very agile, very innovative and very aggressive team there. Campus LAN is where the bulk of the revenue in this industry comes from. I've got a lot of experience of having a very access-level business unit that I've run. Don't underestimate how much revenue and margin there is with a good solution set.

In Part 1 of our Q&A with Jim McHugh, we discuss the state of the Brocade-Foundry merger and the future of data center network infrastructure.
 

How will Brocade approach campus networking moving forward?
We're starting to look at this world where every part of your network has to be application-enabled, information capable. And so we kind of look at these major elements of evolution that are happening. We've got a strong footprint in service providers. We have a set of customers in that space that have recognized that Foundry has exceptional performance characteristics and a deep feature set and very good economy. We need to build out and get that to the big shift to 100 Gigabit that's starting to happen.

From a campus LAN perspective, that's an area that's changing a lot. You've got the core of the network that is largely Catalyst 6500s today. Our good friends over at Cisco are saying they're not going to be doing a lot on that platform going forward, and those customers have to live with what they have or move to something else. I think we have a much better solution than what Cisco is offering them, a solution that really is peaked to do the next generation of performance and capabilities from where the venerable old Cats have been.

At the access layer and the edge of the network, there's a big question of what's going to happen there. There's a big forcing function that has occurred which is going to start to drive different economies there. We believe that's part of the integrated model of how you provide application performance and information integrity. I think there's going to be an extreme level of economic testing that's put on how much the products cost in that space. So I think we've got some work to do. I think we have to look at our business models that maybe Foundry wasn't as strong at. And I think we've got to be aggressive about being able to track where the customer buying behavior goes. There is not a lot of talk about campus LAN at Interop now. It's all data center and cloud. Do you think Interop attendees have come here to find out anything about campus networks?
I would say it's not top-of-mind right now. This is a hype-driven industry. It always has been. The data center is the shiny object right now. People come to trade shows to learn what they don't know. My roots are in HP. They kind of continued with their purchase of 3Com. That's a very pedestrian, value-oriented business model, and I think they're getting more value-oriented. It's about debunking the differentiated value of a lot of the vision pitching and the hype in this industry. There is a large segment of the customers that just want something that works and is cost-effective. You've got to be careful about it. This is the most strategic purchase customers make: the network, end to end. We're messing with the data center which is the heart of the circulatory system. But if you talk about the artery going to the brain, if you cut that off, you're dead.

More on campus networks

Learn about Cisco's most recent refresh of its stackable switches for Borderless Networks and campus LAN.

 

How to choose a campus LAN edge switch.

Learn the basics of how to design a campus LAN

The reason IBM and HP and a lot of the big system IT solution providers failed in networking was that they don't get that basic concept. The [campus] network is the most strategic purchase customers will make. And if you're not a networking company, I don't think you will ever believe that. I think you'll always treat it like, "It's all confusing, and companies like Cisco made it more important than it actually is. If we just deliver it really cheap and really efficient, then they will buy from us." And that's failed. Everybody who's tried that has totally failed in that market. So there's a nuance here. The dynamics of the market are in transformation constantly. But this still is the most strategic asset. The bulk of where they purchase is in wiring closets. The bulk of network purchases out in the world are aggregation and wiring closets. It's not glamorous. It doesn't have a lot of trade shows around it, but at the end of the day, if you look at where Cisco's revenue comes from and where its profit comes from, it's just that. I think more than 50% is just good old stackable switches. 

So where is the innovation going to be in the stackable switches and campus LAN? Cisco has been pushing Borderless Networks.
To be honest, that whole concept of Borderless Networking is something that actually came out of HP years ago. Cisco kind of dismissed it for a few years, pushing the Catalyst 6500 as the centralized intelligent model for the industry. I think that now Cisco has finally woken up to that basic concept, everyone in the industry is beginning to recognize that the network fabric is getting intelligent. The ability to distribute and virtualize network services, network applications and network functionality wherever it makes sense within this intelligent fabric is very compelling. I would back away from that, though, in terms of talking about architectures and catchy brand names. It's really around customer applications. The primary thing you have to understand about what customers are dealing with is that more and more this is their terminal (iPhone), and then you've got this virtualized environment where the application and the information that they need to get to may be in this thing that used to be their data center, or it's in their private cloud, or it's in some location virtualized anywhere between the two. The challenge is: What is the role of the network and what are the real customer value propositions in this emerging world that have to be enabled by this network?

What I think is important and what customers are going to gravitate toward is how to provide seamless mobility and roaming for this thing [iPhone] regardless of what domain it is in. How do you protect it? How do you identify it? How do you make sure the information this device has is never lost, never at risk of being stolen?

To me, that's the role of the network fabric: The network fabric has to be responsible for understanding what is going on with these devices, acting as local transparent caching, acting as potentially on-the-fly mirroring. There are a lot of roles and functionality that are no longer going to be trapped in these very convenient little blocks of application and information. Instead, now that role and functionality has to be seen as a cloud function. That puts a lot of demand on these devices. Where some of my competitors are saying we're going to make it Layer 3 and it's going to be very cheap, I actually believe the intelligence and thoughtfulness of how a network device partners with these increasingly lightweight mobile devices is going to become the next big trend from five years to 15 years out. 

That sounds as if Brocade will have to beef up its wireless LAN story
I think nobody is grasping the level and gravity and power of what that vision entails when you fully implement it. And so it's not just wired. It's wired and wireless. Fixed-mobile convergence is in it too. I don't check out and say once it goes out into a service provider, you as the supplier of the infrastructure vision can say, "Well I can't be responsible for that piece." As an infrastructure provider, I've got to enable my service providers to be able to provide a seamless experience. I described it as campus LAN, but I would think of it more as client enablement. Clients are no longer bounded by the walls of a building. Five or 10 years ago, it was no longer bounded by the plug. Now, it's no longer bounded by the wall.

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