Why HP should buy Brocade

By | October 5, 2009

One of the rumours doing the rounds today is that Brocade are apparently up for sale or at least considering the possibility – I stress at the moment of writing this that it is pure speculation.  Clearly rumours like this must be taken with a bucket of salt and are often either blatantly untrue and sometimes calculated in their nature.

Anyway, the interesting thing from my point of view is that it was just last week that I cheekily said to somebody at HP, via email, that I thought HP should buy Brocade.  So with the current rumour in mind I might as well take a minute to explain why I think this would be a great move, not only for HP and Brocade, but also the wider industry……

First up, there is no doubt that there is a huge push towards convergence in the industry.  One topic Im thinking a lot about at the moment is the converged network (aka unified fabric) bringing together the likes of IP, iSCSI, FC and more, all on to the same cable, PCI adapter, switch ports…..  In this area Cisco are flexing their muscle and driving much of both the changes as well as leading the standards bodies.  Brocade and others are at the table, especially in the designing of the standards etc, but struggle to compete with the might of Cisco when it comes to getting products to market and gaining market share.

Being Brutally Honest.

Question 1: Is it realistic to expect Brocade to compete with Cisco in the unified fabric arena?

My thoughts are heavily influenced by the fact that I have never seen a Brocade Foundry switch (IP) out in the wild.  Now if Ive never seen one in my professional life, and Ive seen hundreds and hundreds of Cisco switches, I have to wonder whether they can ever compete.

Sure Brocade have a great FC capabilities and are very strong in that area of the market.  But they are relatively poor in the IP arena. 

Honest answer – Probably not good enough to compete with Cisco.

Question 2: Is it realistic to expect HP to compete with Cisco, based solely on their existing portfolio in ProCurve?

While I HAVE seen HP ProCurve switches in the wild, I have not seen many. 

Based on the way things have gone and are going in IP networking, and the fact that HP ProCurve does not offer FC, FCoE or DCB then they will probably struggle to compete with Cisco.

Interestingly though, on the unified fabric strengths and weaknesses comparison chart, HP  ProCurve is almost the exact opposite of Brocade – it has relatively good Ethernet/IP capabilities but not FC or FCoE.  When you compare them, its almost as if they are screaming out to be married up.

Introducing the HP ProCade platform

Bring the two together though – the unquestioned market leading capabilities of Brocade in FC and FCoE, and the number 2 player in the IP networking space, merge the technologies together and suddenly a potential challenger to Cisco materialises. 

Im calling it HP ProCade!

May be the HP ProCade Unified Network System (HP PUNS)!  OK may be not, but ProCade definitely has potential.

NOTE: Based on existing market share, and the fact that it would be HP doing the buying (I must re-iterate that this is 110% pure speculation) and Brocade doing the dancing, I would expect ProCurve to win over Foundry.

Granted takeovers and technology mergers take time (dont even ask about the Oracle SUN thing which is seeing the SUN side of the bargain destroyed while the European competition people drag their heels) and of course it would not be easy – but then again not many things in life really worth while are easy.  But I think for the industry this would be extremely worthwhile.  Competition is is what drives the industry forward.

Sadly, aside from this potential, I dont see any other serious challenge to Cisco.

Interestingly though, Im willing to bet that Cisco would be worried if HP were to buy Brocade.  Some of the guys on Twitter seem to be coming across as if they feel HP purchasing Brocade would pose a threat to Cisco.  At least far more likely to threaten than anything else on the table at the moment.

In summary, I would LOVE to see HP and Brocade come together and I think it would really give Cisco something to think about.  And for any Brocaders out there reading this, I think HP StorageWorks is in good hands, and I dont think being taken over by HP would be the worst thing in the world.  Im sure we'd all love Brocade to stay independant, but in order to survive and live on and challenge, may be a change is needed!

Thoughts and comments encouraged.


7 thoughts on “Why HP should buy Brocade

  1. Jason

    I’m faintly surprised that you’ve not seen Foundry switches in the wild.  I’ve seen them at 2 of the last 3 long term jobs I’ve had.  They’re reasonably solid switches (Personally, I preferred Extreme switches of the ‘second tier’ of switch vendors, but that’s just me).  Foundry is certainly a minority position, but they may have some worthwhile things up their sleeve… I’ve never played with ProCurve switches though.

  2. Erwin van Londen

    Nigel,Have a look at http://www.ams-ix.net/technical/

    This is the Amsterdam Internet Exchange which is carrying a majority of the European Internet Traffic (yes a majority of ALL european backbone internet traffic) as well as a hell of a lot of traffic for the national scientific  datacentres.

    They run on Foundry kit. I think it is really impressive gear given the fact it moves stuff around at +- 1.5 TERRAbits per second. 🙂

    Anyway, I think Brocade should remain independent. If they were bought by HP (or any other vendor if you like) they become distracted and just part of a business unit. The problem then is that a lot of other storage vendors become a bit skeptical w.r.t. intellectual property, development efforts for these different vendor etc. Chances are Cisco will pick the fruit from that giving them even more strength and market share. They will probably become the sole provider of storage networking gear in the not so distant future then. About the same as had happened with the CPU market, look at Intel. (The only other CPU available these days is the Power processor from IBM, all other RISC and MIPS processors are nearly dead or only used in highly special configurations)



  3. stephen2615

    Good article Nigel.  For once I seem to think you realise that Brocade will not be a real competitor. 
    I just don’t think that HP would be interested in Brocade.  I sometimes watch those articles on NatGeo Channle where a wave of debris after a volcano/earthquake pushes all that is in front of it out of the way.  HP do like Brocade SAN switches for some unknown reason and will convince anyone out there with little SAN switch knowledge that Brocade is the way to go.  Why is that?  I doubt its because Brocade do a better switch (and I know a couple of SAN people might want to argue on that) but I think its because they view Cisco as a real competitor in most serious ventures.  Cisco offer so many things that HP used to.  Their blade servers don’t do much for me but hey, they are out there and some idiot CIO with a thing for Cisco might buy them.
    HP like Brocade as they are not a threat.  Its sort of like the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
    Brocade really need to show they are serious about FCoE and bring out mezz cards for the HP C class and/or whatever IBM offers these days.  Wasting their time only on CNA’s is a waste of time.  Go with the flow.

  4. Garry

    If you want to understand why HP prefers Brocade over Cisco, start with oversubscription ratio. Just for you reference it is not about switches, but directors and backbones. That is where Cisco cannot touch Brocade with its legacy IP design. 75 % of FC switches market share means more than just a simple personal  preference. I advise you do not jump to conclusions without understanding significant design differences in FC switching products from Cisco and Brocade.
    As far as FCoE – it  is still a buzz word untill it becomes industry accepted end to end connectivity standart. Top of Rack – I could care less.I am not aware of any major players who committed to FCoE on the storage side.
    HP with Brocade will create unbeatle due. Next step, HP should get grip on HDS, fix their stinking Hi RDB backend.. But it is a different story…

  5. Nigel Poulton

    Hi Garry,

    On major players committed to FCoE on storage side –

    EMC have announced availability of native FCoE connectivity on CLARiiON next year and I know NetApp have just bigged it up at ATL event today with Cisco, VMware & NetApp.

    You might be surprised one morning and wake up to all array vendors supporting it, once one supports it the others feel they "have" to rather than be seen to be left behind. And it can happen quickly….

    Hi RDB is not another storey – its a nightmare!!!!!


  6. stephen2615

    Brocade over subscribe as well..  The 32 and 48 port card on the 48000 is a classic example of that.   I am sure it also happens on the DCX. 
    I most definitely understand the differences between the two vendors.  Market share is not a guarantee of success in the future.  I have a mixed shop (as part of a merger) with Cisco and Brocade (Directors and switches) and Brocade made it so much more difficult with their dropping interop mode.    I can easily get the performance and wonderful functionality out of the Cisco MDS equipment even though oversubscription can make for actual design and thought of where to put things.

  7. Charles Hood


    On the contrary, the 32 port cards for DCX are not oversubscribed at all at 8Gb. The 48 port card for DCX isn’t oversubscribed at 4Gb, and is just a wee bit oversubscribed at 8GB — only 1.5 to 1. However, keep in mind that Brocade supports local switching, that means if an initiator on port 0 is talking to storage on port 1 then the blade is smart enough to do cut through switching, thus not consuming any backplane bandwidth for that slot. With a real world mix of 8Gb and 4Gb devices and a small amount of locality to your traffic patterns, it is trivial to build 1 to 1 non-oversubscribed SAN using 48 port cards.

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