Brocade out to shed SAN player image

  • Wants to be known as a cloud solutions provider instead of SAN vendor
  • Made gains in last 18mths, but up against bigger traditional players

Brocade out to shed SAN player imageDATA storage and networking company Brocade Communications System Inc began life focusing on storage area network (SAN) gear, but in recent years it has set its sights on becoming a more mainstream networking player and is poised to take on leadings rivals, according to its local country head.
Brocade country manager Sean Ong says the company, under the new leadership of current chief executive Lloyd Carney, is confident that it can break away from its traditional SAN-based roots and transform itself into a wider networking product and services company, based on the fact that it has broader product portfolio available today.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) recently, Ong says, “Our business in our non-SAN area grew more than three times in the last 18 months in Malaysia alone. Our net new customers addition in this period also more than tripled.” This suggests that the stage is set for better things to come next year, he adds.
Founded in 1995, the San Jose, California-based networking gear maker claims to be an industry leader in providing reliable, high-performance network solutions that help the world’s leading organisations transition smoothly to a virtualised world.
The company is noted for developing data centre switches, notably the VDX family of switches, which is based on a technology known as Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS).
VCS is noted in the industry for improving network utilisation, maximising application availability, increasing scalability, and simplifying the network architecture in virtualised data centres.
According to Gartner, Brocade's VCS architecture provides a “solid data centre solution, including native integration of SAN connectivity.”
The technology research firm points out that Brocade has been growing at roughly market rates for the past year, but historically limited marketing means that its brand does not get the exposure that could potentially make it a choice for companies looking for networking gear.
Changing perceptions
Brocade out to shed SAN player imageWhen asked how the perception of the Brocade brand is changing, especially here in Malaysia, Ong (pic) says customers have always known Brocade as a company that has products deep in the data centre, especially at the switching level, where its fibre channel technology is widely deployed.
He acknowledges that Brocade is not as known as some of the other more mainstream networking players such as Cisco Systems Inc and Juniper Networks Inc, but claims that market perception is changing.
According to Ong, Brocade has made inroads into the enterprise networking space after the acquisition of Foundry Networks in 2008. This opened up an opportunity to challenge market leaders such as Cisco and Juniper.
“In the past few years, we launched quite a number of new products targeted at the Internet Protocol (IP) networking market. For example, in 2012 we introduced Brocade ICX, a family of enterprise networking distribution switches targeted at corporations and the campus network environment.
“And in 2009, we got into the wireless access points and wireless controller sector, all for the same market,” he says. “These product lines [ICX and wireless gear] have helped us grow the business here in Malaysia by three times.”
Ong claims that while customers see Brocade as a very niche provider in terms of these technologies, their perception have changed over the years as customers begin to see the clear differentiation that its products offer.
One of the most distinct differentiators of Brocade is its ‘pay-as-you-go’ scheme, a model which ensures customers can start small, grow and buy according to their needs. This, he says, is a very different proposition from what other traditional data switching vendors have to offer, which normally requires upfront investments from customers.

That said, Ong concedes that although it has done well in Malaysia in the last 18 months, more must be done to gain market share.
Asked how he plans to do this in 2014, as well as what strategies will be used to achieve this, Ong says Brocade will employ a three-pronged approach.
“The first is to continue our publicity activities via the media so that we can reach a wider market. Second, we plan to strengthen our partners and help them support our key customers, while at the same time explore opportunities where we’re not in yet.
“Finally, we plan to do a lot more roadshows, such as seminars, with key partners as well as to work with our OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners – EMC, NetApp, IBM and HP – with the aim of further educating the market.”
Ong also reveals that moving forward, Brocade will be less inclined to speak about its SAN solutions, although he acknowledges that this was a core business area for the company, but instead position itself as a holistic data centre solution provider.
“I think the key differentiator for us is to no longer talk about [our] SAN solutions, but we will talk about the whole data centre solution that we have,” he explains. “We are also going to emphasise software-defined networking technologies, and the benefits they bring to customers.”
Some cautions
According to Gartner, Brocade’s VCS is a well-thought-out Ethernet fabric offering for virtualised data centres. The research firm also notes that that its ‘pay-as-you-grow’ model supported in the VDX family allows customers to pay for only the required capacity, either through port-based licensing or a monthly subscription, all of which provides additional differentiation and enhances Brocade's data centre vision.
Addtionally, a scale-out architecture with entry-level pricing allows it to appropriately 'right-size' data centre solutions for a wide range of use cases.
These plus points aside, Gartner also warns that vendor coverage, including technical support, remains a challenge for Brocade, especially in the Asia Pacific region, as it is still ramping up its direct sales force as the predominant approach for data centre opportunities.
“While the VCS fabric is a strong architectural solution, Brocade was initially slow in providing a broad range of VDX platforms, which limited its initial opportunities. The portfolio has been recently extended to include a range of chassis and fixed-format switches.
“Clients need to ensure that Brocade is able to support new data centre requirements and capabilities in their geographies, because Brocade's revenue is skewed toward the US market, although it does have reference accounts in all regions,” Gartner says.
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