Brocade Looks to Bridge Network & Cloud Automation

Mitch Wagner
5/25/2016
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Building on its acquisition of the operations automation startup StackStorm in March, Brocade has announced Brocade Workflow Composer to provide automated IT and network automation in a single toolset.

"We are eliminating all the manual handoffs that get in the way of the body of work," Patrick LaPorte, director of network automation solutions, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), tells Light Reading. "We have a material impact on business agility. Just executing those handoffs programmatically rather than manually will save time."

In addition to time and cost savings, automated management tools will help network operators increase customer satisfaction by improving performance and uptime. "The more you automate, you get more efficient in your execution. It's much more reliable and much more profitable," he says.

In other words, Workflow Composer is designed to help network operators achieve the goals of New IP networks.

Workflow Composer is designed for cloud providers and enterprises of all size -- any organization whose customers primarily consume information over the web, such as financial institutions and web-based retailers, LaPorte says.

Workflow Composer provides what Brocade calls "cross-domain integration" -- integrating compute, storage, and IT applications with network management in multivendor environments.

The software integrates cloud management tools from StackStorm with network integrations and workflows from Brocade.

Brocade acquired StackStorm in March. The company provides automation tools extending to cloud environments including Microsoft Azure and Rackspace, as well as OpenStack, Amazon Web Services, and Docker.

Workflow Composer starts with provisioning the Layer 3 fabric architecture, including data center tenants, as well as BGP/EVPN provisioning. It can provision switches for spine and leaf deployment, and provide connectivity to peers.

Network management tools have previously focused on provisioning, but that's only about 5%-10% of the work for network operators, who also want to automate troubleshooting, repair, remediation, and validation, LaPorte says. Workflow Composer delivers total lifecycle management.

Workflow Composer validates configuration of network devices, to determine whether they've deviated from the "golden configuration" and need to be reset, LaPorte says.

And Workflow Composer automates troubleshooting by deploying sensors, which function as network plugins that integrate with compute, IT applications, storage or cloud services -- 2,000 points of integration in all, including Linux, Windows, vSphere, AWS, Azure, CloudFoundry, OpenStack, Kubernetes, FireEye and more. The sensors listen for events and trigger actions based on those events using programmatic rules.

For example, if a web server runs out of disk space, a sensor would detect the problem, the rules engine prescribes the appropriate workflow -- clearing cache, for example -- and triggers the action automatically. Troubleshooting works with cloud and IT services as well as Brocade networking products such as VDX routers.

Workflow Composer includes turnkey workflows for organizations just getting started with DevOps as well as support for "DIY workflows" for sophisticated organizations that want to build from scratch, LaPorte says.

Brocade describes the tools as "DevOps inspired," using open source software such as Python, Ruby, Mistral and Puppet.

The basic StackStorm software is open source and available on Github. Brocade's Workflow Composer adds a GUI to allow organizations to lay out rules and actions and automatically generate code. The Brocade version also adds high-level Automation Packs comprising workflows, actions, and sensors for specific capabilities -- for example, troubleshooting BGP, LaPorte says.

And Brocade provides security add-ons for Workflow Composer, LDAP integration and support.

Brocade Workflow Composer will be available in late July or early August.

"Strategically, this is a huge deal for Brocade," LaPorte says. Workflow Composer integrates across Brocade's entire network portfolio, including its OpenDaylight-based SDN controller, and Vyatta Routers.


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Brocade is moving from its heritage as as SAN provider to provider of overall networking products and services that include storage. And IP storage is one of Brocade's biggest growth areas.

However, Workflow Composer doesn't support Brocade's SAN products -- yet. "We want to get through the launch first," LaPorte says.

Brocade's SAN business has been declining, while its IP networking business improved -- until recently. In its most recent quarterly earnings, Brocade reported revenue declines in both storage and IP networking. In results reported this month, Brocade said it saw quarterly revenue down 4% year-over-year to $523 million, with IP networking revenue at $132 million, down 9% year over year, and SAN product revenue down 5% year-over-year, to $297 million. (See Brocade Revenue Down, IP Networking Slumps.)

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Enterprise Cloud, Light Reading.

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