Brocade's Foundry buy will boost Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Brocade will get a shot in the arm in the area of Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Brocade's pending acquisition of Foundry Networks and its IP network technology will give Brocade a shot in the arm in the area of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), a technology expected to make major data center inroads in the next few years.

"They've got this vast background of storage networking capabilities," Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte says of Brocade. "What they didn't have was a lot of core IP networking. By joining the two together, it instantly gives them the credibility, culturally, in large enterprises."

FCoE, which lets the Fibre Channel storage protocol take advantage of 10Gigabit Ethernet networks, lets IP network and storage data traffic be consolidated with a single switch. With fewer cables and adapters in a server, FCoE will help reduce data center cost and complexity, says Ian Whiting, vice president and general manager of data center infrastructure for Brocade. Vendors are still waiting for the American National Standards Institute to produce a standard for FCoE, but Cisco and Brocade have already quarreled over the issue, with Cisco using its blog to deny allegations that its FCoE efforts are proprietary implementations not supported by the industry at large.

Brocade officials said the Foundry acquisition was not spurred by its FCoE ambitions, noting that it had announced a roadmap for Fibre Channel over Ethernet months ago. But Brocade's market opportunities for FCoE will be greatly expanded with Foundry on board, Whiting says.

The storage-area networking market Brocade competes in today has roughly US$2 billion in play, while the Gigabit Ethernet marketplace represents about $20 billion worth of buying power, he says.

"Don't think of the acquisition of Foundry as something which is going to in any way materially change the roadmap Brocade had in place for Fibre Channel over Ethernet," Whiting says. "What Foundry does bring is a significant market expansion opportunity."

It's hard to say how Brocade will integrate Foundry technologies with its own, but "it gives them instant credibility in the IP space," Laliberte says, noting that "Fibre Channel over Ethernet is actually using a core IP switch. But it literally is taking Fibre Channel and running it over Ethernet."

A draft FCoE industry standard is expected to be released next month. While some industry observers say FCoE products will be shipping the second half of this year, others think it's more likely to happen in 2010 or 2011, says storage analyst Matthew Bryson with Avian Securities. Whenever it happens, the Foundry acquisition gives Brocade "a way to play in that [IP] space and protects them as at least a portion of the Fibre Channel market is cannibalized by FCoE."