Uncommon Wisdom

May 5 2011   12:54PM GMT

Brocade’s CloudPlex: Strong story, but architecture needs details

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

UBS released an Ethernet switching report that confirms the trends my surveys have shown for two years now—including the fact that the data center network evolution is driving enterprise network equipment spending. What my data has also shown is that enterprises are not likely to see data center network evolution in a vacuum; they link it to an IT architecture migration to virtualization, cloud computing or both. That’s why there have been so many recent announcements of cloud IT support from network equipment vendors.

Brocade has now jumped into the fray. The company has always been strong in the data center, but more on the storage side. Its Foundry acquisition gave it credentials in the enterprise WAN side of data center networking, and it has an OEM deal with IBM that’s offered it some new paths to market. Still, it’s fair to say that Brocade hasn’t kept up in this space, and more fair to say that it has lost some opportunity to steal share from its arch-rival Cisco. UBS also lowered its estimates on Cisco to reflect business-model transition, a fancy way of saying that management is distracted and things are in a state of flux.

Brocade’s strategy, which it calls the “Virtual Enterprise”, is built on an architecture that Brocade says is open and extensible, and is in turn called CloudPlex. I have to admit that “Virtual Enterprise” based on “CloudPlex” seems like an attempt to link all the right buzzwords to an announcement, and that cynical view may be somewhat validated by the fact that the new stuff associated with CloudPlex isn’t yet available.  Unlike rival-for-Cisco-market-share-castoff Juniper, Brocade didn’t tie its new architecture to a single new product, or to any specific future one either.

Spinning an architecture in advance of having specific execution to support it isn’t necessarily bad, though.  My surveys have consistently said that enterprises and service providers alike need to understand the ecosystem that a vendor’s vision represents before they worry too much about boxes, speeds and feeds.  The problem in this case is that the details on CloudPlex are sketchy themselves, and it’s not at all clear just how the concept links virtualization to the cloud. That’s particularly true when Brocade doesn’t supply virtualization/cloud software except through partnerships. I think Brocade could tell a strong story here, but they’ve not done it yet.

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