Brocade Takes Aim at Nexus
"The minute that enterprise customers start talking to Cisco about Nexus, we're on it like a hawk," says Bob Braham, Brocade's vice president of integrated marketing.
It promises to be an interesting fight, because Cisco, Juniper, and now Brocade are all taking different approaches to redefining the data center.
"Everybody has the same sort of vision: Virtualization doesn't work in current network environments, so the network has to change. Unlike in days past, when everybody had the same solution for everything, vendors are rolling out different solutions," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc. "The competition, I'd say, is so wide open right now because everybody's got a different way to solve the problem."
Cisco, with its Nexus switches and Universal Computing System, is pitching a data center full of Cisco-provided gear, including some servers. (See Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future and Cisco Dreams of Data Center Unity.)
Juniper, meanwhile, is stressing the data center's three layers down to one. Its EX line of Ethernet switches play a huge role there, using virtualization to blur the access and aggregation layer. And the Stratus fabric, due in 2011, will do the rest of the job by making the data center behave as if it were a single switch. (See Feature Story: Juniper's Enterprise Vision, Juniper Strikes at the Data Center, and Juniper Gets 'New' With Data Centers.)
Brocade is pitching a data center architecture that looks to the network like one chassis. But company officials also got into some specifics -- discussing, for example, the idea of adding more policy and security smarts to automate the process of moving a virtual machine inside the cloud. (See Brocade Preaches Data Center Nirvana.)
Brocade has also come up with a slogan: The network is the data center. It wasn't picked out of a fortune cookie; rather, it's meant to indicate that the features of a high-performance data center are starting to become requirements everywhere else. For example, the prospect of video-chatting iPhones (or theoretically someday, networked Flip cameras) means high speed, low latency, and quality of service will get increased emphasis inside the enterprise, Braham says.
"You could say the heavy lifting is at the endpoints," Braham says. "The enterprise, the endpoints, and the data center really have to be treated as one entity."
The one-chassis approach makes Brocade's architecture sound a lot like Juniper's Stratus, Kerravala says, although he thinks Brocade, with its strong storage-networking background, will integrate storage into the plan more thoroughly than Juniper will.
But the competitor Brocade wants to aim for is Cisco. The Catalyst switch line is aging, and Nexus represents a complete break, a system that doesn't even use the same type of operating system.
That transition is where Brocade wants to set up its ambush. Brocade is even touting a command-line interface that's similar to what Cisco offers with its Internetwork Operating System (IOS) on the Catalyst switches, offering some familiarity to operators who don't like the idea of learning a whole new set of tools.
Brocade might be on to something. Many customers get itchy when someone like Cisco starts preaching a one-vendor network. "Long term, what Brocade was talking about was where Cisco needs to get. You just can't have a vertically integrated solution," Kerravala says.
But there's an obvious advantage to Cisco's approach. All the different systems work together, and Cisco has the freedom to wring some features out of the mix that might be more difficult to pull off in a heterogeneous network. "They've got a lot of bells and whistles there that nobody else has," Kerravala says.
There's interest in Cisco's unified data center concept, but skepticism about whether it will work, Kerravala says. While Nexus and UCS have attracted customer interest, they're not getting used in the revolutionary ways Cisco is hoping for. "It tends to be more just a big server," he says.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading