Users question Brocade-McData roadmap

Lingering questions over Brocade's plans for integration with McData have uneased some users

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp. users say that the roadmap for product integration released by Brocade this week looks good on paper, but they are waiting for more detail on exactly how interoperability between the two companies' product lines will be accomplished and when.

"They've made a lot of statements," said Mike Biedermann, systems analyst for the University of New Mexico Hospital. He added, "I've been taking a wait-and-see attitude" since the acquisition was announced in August.

Biedermann recalled how his company had just finished painstakingly replacing a Brocade fabric with McData products last year, only to find out about the acquisition days later. "It has been confusing -- for a while no one has had any information," he said.

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Biedermann said his company needs a new director switch, as it is running out of ports on the McData Intrepid 6064 director it currently has deployed. "It would be nice if I could speak with a representative from Brocade to find out the best way to go about making my next purchasing decision," Biedermann said.

According to Brocade's director of product marketing Mario Blandini, Brocade has begun conducting briefings with users to make "tactical advisements" on specific purchasing issues. Otherwise, he said, full details on exactly how interoperability will be achieved and when it will happen, aside from sometime in the first half of 2007, won't be available for another six weeks when Brocade has a press and analyst day planned in San Francisco.

"We've really only been able to have hands-on meetings with engineering staff since Monday [when the acquisition closed]," Blandini said, comparing the controlled discussions that took place previously to calling an advice nurse on a hotline rather than being physically examined by a doctor. "There are some things you can't decide or diagnose until you get hands-on," he said.

Some users remained pessimistic, citing the fact that most of McData's upper management has been swept out. "You can promise support on products, but if the people that really know the product you invested in heavily end up leaving, which is happening, then how good can the support really be?" said Rich DeBrino, CIO and vice president of Advances in Technology, a healthcare IT services company. "These large acquisitions always have causalities."

No moss on Cisco

In the meantime, users say they have begun giving more consideration to products from Brocade nemesis Cisco Systems Inc. Over the last three years, Cisco crept ahead of Brocade in the director switch market, and it's clear users are more familiar with advanced features they can get from Cisco than they are with equivalent products from Brocade.

For example, several Brocade and McData users interviewed for this story said they were evaluating or thinking of evaluating Cisco's products for features, such as FCIP extension as a blade within the Cisco 9500 series directors rather than on a separate router, as the capability has traditionally been offered through Brocade and McData.

With the introduction of the SilkWorm 48000 director product, according to Blandini, Brocade has also been providing FCIP in blade form, but this product was only introduced in March and only began shipping from all of Brocade's major OEMs in May. The same goes for virtual fabric capabilities, which several users said appealed to them in Cisco's products over Brocade's; Blandini said the ability to create virtual fabrics using Brocade has been available from Brocade since September and all major OEMs since December.

Cisco's first FCIP module, as well as its virtual storage area network (SAN) fabric products, meanwhile, were released in 2003. The messaging around these products began in 2002.

Brocade's attempts to catch up over the last six months could prove to be too little, too late for some users. One IT director, who asked that neither he nor his company be identified, said "I've been having a serious debate with my storage manager over whether to switch over to Cisco for the features Cisco has, and also because of the fact that we use Cisco for all our nonstorage networking equipment."

Another user, Travis McCulloch, systems engineer with Hilton Grand Vacation Co. will do a full request for proposal (RFP) at the next product refresh his firm has coming up in nine months. Despite having been a Brocade customer for the last several years, McCulloch said he has grown curious about Cisco's switch features, and that "pricing will also be extremely important."

For its part, Cisco isn't just waiting for Brocade users to fall off the vine, either. According to sources, the company is hiring in sales and marketing with the intention of going after Brocade's customers during the confusion of the integration process.

Updates to roadmap document

Brocade has already made updates to its roadmap document since its first release on the company's Web site on Monday in response to users' concerns about dates for "end of sale" announcements. One discontinued product line in particular, McData's blade switch modules, had users worried.

"I worry that there will be a gap where I have to wait to deploy a Blade Center because I'm waiting for fabric interoperability," said Tom Becchetti, senior infrastructure engineer for a major national financial services company, after reviewing the first version of the roadmap document.

According to Blandini, the roadmap document posted on Brocade's Web site has now been updated to clarify that products, including McData's blade-server switches, will still be available for purchase for six months. "We have to give our OEMs and partners an end-of-sale date in order to begin the process of terminating the contract, but we can't just take the product off the market in one day," he said.

Blandini also said that in an effort to address users' concerns about fabric interoperability before its upcoming announcements in March, Brocade is offering a whitepaper on its Web site that discusses different approaches to achieving interoperability between switches, and which approaches Brocade is looking at using, though it doesn't amount to a specific process Brocade will follow step by step.

Read the Brocade whitepaper discussing different interoperability approaches between switches.

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