Service provider adoption of virtualization technologies such software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) will benefit not only the telecom network operators but also vendors who have been looking for an opening into the service provider market, and high on that list is Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)
Brocade has been making major strides in the SDN and NFV space, including its acquisition of Vyatta last November, and in this week's earnings announcement reiterated its "laser focus" on datacenter networking, which means SDN/NFV and its Ethernet switch fabric, Brocade CTO Ken Cheng told Light Reading.
Of course, Brocade is far from the only vendor looking to capitalize on the SDN/NFV transition, as noted in this Heavy Reading Insider: "Picking the Winners from the NFV Revolution."
But the network gear maker may be facing its best opportunity for taking on its much larger competitors, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) with its new On-Demand Data Center and a significant NFV push. This major network transition could represent an opening. (See Brocade Spruces Up for Datacenters.)
"Service providers are very slow to look at alternative vendors," says Zeus Kerravala, of ZK Research . "That's been the biggest challenge for Brocade, especially with a couple of vendors that are the 800-pound gorillas. What Brocade can offer now is an architecture with much lower cost which provides a lot more flexibility and agility than these other platforms. And, frankly, the bigger guys are less likely to be as aggressive because it can cannibalize their traditional business model."
Cisco and Juniper will likely insist they are going hot and heavy on virtualization as well, but each of them once benefited from the reality Kerravala is citing: Network shifts are when new players get their foot in the door. So how is Brocade planning to capitalize on this opportunity?
According to Kelly Herrell, VP and GM of software business unit at Brocade, who came over from Vyatta, there is two years of experience on which to draw, based on deployment by cloud service providers who wanted nimble, efficient networks able to deliver on-demand services at utility pricing, but also required security and segmentation of their virtualized networks. (See Brocade Buys Vyatta for Software Routing Smarts.)
"You can go to the Amazon store today and it will fire up Vyatta virtual machines on the fly and pay on a usage-based pricing model," Herrell says. "Rackspace now has a global network-as-a-service offer that is entirely powered by Vyatta virtual machines."
The point is Brocade is experienced and ready to help telecom service providers implement NFV today in the limited fashion many predict they will initially use, in ways that immediately make economic sense. (See SDN Pioneers Limit Risk to Maximize Payoff.)
"For example, every carrier has route reflectors -- big expensive boxes that do a straightforward function," says Herrell. "They sit there, they don't get moved around, so why not do that on a standard Intel server with NFV? You are just moving from an inefficient hardware model to a very efficient software model, using a virtual machine."
The economics play out immediately: If proprietary route reflectors cost an average of $50,000, as Herrell posits, and carriers have hundreds of them deployed, then moving to a virtualized approach using a $3,000 piece of commercial off-the-shelf hardware is an immediate saving.
So NFV is easily deployed "without doing any fancy backflips or advanced math," Herrell says, and then that deployment can be leveraged to begin enabling the flexibility service providers are seeking long-term. And by offering these near-term benefits, Brocade can help service providers get started and get its own new footing in the network.
There is still the need for performance enhancements to NFV, Herrell says, and as others have indicated, there are management and orchestration layer issues to be resolved, but he sees both immediate possibilities for NFV deployments and a clear path to the longer-term benefits.
Kerravala believes Brocade's more open approach to SDN/NFV positions the company well against its competitors.
"What Brocade has working for them now is that the service providers are looking for some easier ways to manage the network agility, and faster time to market for services, and this transition is probably their best opportunity in years," he says. "I would say they are ahead of Cisco -- they are much more open. Cisco and Juniper go down the route of being an architectural play where they are trying to create more integrated stacks -- of all the SDN vendors out there, Brocade has embraced the open standards and tried to be as open as possible."
Brocade also believes its Ethernet fabric is positioned well as complementary to virtualization in the datacenter networking space, says CTO Cheng, as Ethernet is able to scale the infrastructure for cloud environments and the next generation of datacenter interconnection.
"The new network edge is going to be software and the software network layer will work very tightly and closely with the hardware infrastructure in delivering a lot of the benefits of the SDN to the upper layer software," he says.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading