Brocade’s new bag

We love jokes around here. Especially the ones that begin with “knock, knock.” But first let’s talk about Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

Usually, there isn’t much to say about Brocade: It puts out some of the best FC (Fibre Channel) switches – Dell’Oro Group estimates Brocade had a 79 per cent share by revenue in 2002 in the FC fabric switch (fixed) segment – and goes quietly about its business. But now it is making some noise that we think end-users (that’s you) will like.

Earlier this month, Brocade shared more details on its forthcoming family of switches that run storage software in the network rather than in the host or within the array. We think this approach is brilliant. No longer will you have to update host-based software in oodles of servers or pay a premium for software functionality that currently resides in the array. Brocade is calling this approach a “fabric application platform.”

How the pure software companies will play into this race for fabric application platforms is anybody’s guess. But don’t get too excited yet: It will be a while before ISVs port their storage applications to the platform.

Initially, array vendors will likely resist this idea. As you know, they are still enjoying high margins on selling low-priced hardware souped-up with software. But sooner or later, the array vendors will begin, albeit quietly, writing their software code to one of the platforms. That is not a typo: There will be two and maybe even more platforms.

So, following in the vein of our knock-knock joke: Who’s there?

EMC Corp. and Veritas Software Corp. have agreed to exchange even more APIs to improve product interoperability, a goal the two companies have been targeting for a long time. And like Brocade, Cisco Systems Inc. – which last year bought startup switch vendor Andiamo Systems – will soon release a platform packed with processors that can run a host of storage applications across a number of arrays.

Though the application porting is going slowly, ISVs do like the idea. Already Brocade has signed up seven of them to write to their API with the help of its recently released software development kit. But it may be a while before others come aboard – the seven had previous agreements with Rhapsody Networks Inc. before Brocade acquired it late last year.

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who?

The final beauty of this fabric application platform architecture is that Brocade itself won’t be developing software and will also sell the switches through its existing OEM channel (read: storage array vendors). That means a company such as EMC would eventually benefit from porting its replication software to the switch because it also would be selling it.

And that means you, the user, wins. Because now you’ll have a switch that runs lots of software that was designed to work across arrays from all vendors.

Oh, and here’s the punch line: Orange you glad we didn’t say “virtualization”?