EMC-Brocade 10 Gigabit Ethernet deal raises questions for Cisco

As successful virtualization increasingly relies on networking, EMC will resell 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches from its close partner Cisco, but also from Cisco's competitor, Brocade.

BOSTON -- EMC's approach to high-performance networking for virtualization has raised questions about the company's relationship with long-time partner Cisco Systems. But some observers and IT pros said EMC's decision to offer customers choice in networking gear -- between Cisco and its challenger, Brocade -- makes sense.

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Cisco Systems Inc. has been EMC Corp.'s go-to networking vendor, especially for virtualization. But at EMC World 2010, EMC highlighted its partnership with Brocade. Under the EMC-Brocade agreement announced Monday, EMC will resell the 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switches and related products in Brocade's IP networking line.

An IT manager at a large New York bank said the group that specifies his organization's networking gear often has a brand preference, so the ability to source either Brocade or Cisco switches along with EMC storage could be an attractive option.

"Sometimes you get a price advantage getting networking with storage [together], and sometimes you want one vendor to support both," he said.

Even large companies like to have a couple of strong options -- although not a huge number -- in each technology category to keep suppliers' prices in check.

EMC-Brocade: Filling Cisco's gaps?
Cisco's role as EMC's go-to networking vendor for virtualization isn't necessarily changing. (EMC has also announced plans to resell Cisco 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, albeit much more quietly.) Still, the Brocade news raised eyebrows among analysts, partners and other EMC World attendees. While observers said it makes sense to offer customer choice, EMC's tight ties with Cisco were suddenly in question.

Sometimes you get a price advantage getting networking with storage.
New York-based IT manager,
"It's very advantageous for Brocade to have the EMC sales force selling their IP technology," said Jack Kaiser, vice president of strategic technologies for GreenPages Technology Solutions, a Kittery, Maine-based solution provider. "I really don't see how it will help EMC's sales, though."

Cisco has long been EMC's primary networking partner. Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), released last year, combines Cisco's server and networking hardware with EMC storage and VMware virtualization software in one appliance. And in November, the three companies formed the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition to offer VBlock Infrastructure Packages, preconfigured bundles of servers, networking, storage and virtualization software.

But neither initiative has set the world on fire. For example, Cisco designed UCS for very large businesses and service providers, but the appliance has proven a tough sell in those accounts. (It has seen some success, however, among small and medium-sized businesses.)

With this expanded Brocade partnership, EMC may be trying to reach new customers that it hasn't been able to get to through Cisco, said analyst Edward Haletky, the owner of AstroArch Consulting Inc.

"I understand why [EMC is] doing it," he said. "UCS is a small part of their story. They've got to sell everywhere, and Brocade's going to impact that. VBlock, no matter how you slice it, has a limited audience, and that's going to be a problem."

"It's about choice"
Jim Damoulakis, the chief technology officer of GlassHouse Technologies, said it's smart for EMC to work with multiple partners.

"For the number of areas that EMC is in, there's going to be co-opetition," he said. "Most switch sales are traditionally driven through storage channels, so clearly it's critical for Brocade."

In a post-keynote question-and-answer session Monday, EMC CEO Joe Tucci said his company's reliance on partners is crucial to help customers build private clouds. He also stressed the importance of choice, saying he expects many customers to go with VBlock, but "I don't ever want to force a customer to have to buy that."

In an interview, VCE coalition executives echoed Tucci's comments on customer options. Dennis Hoffman, EMC's senior vice president of the VCE coalition, and Manjula Talreja, Cisco's vice president of the VCE coalition, said the vendors actively pursue opportunities with other partners, as well. Talreja, for example, pointed out the recent multi-tenancy alliance between Cisco, VMware Inc. and NetApp.

"It's about choice, it's about efficiency and it's about agility," Hoffman said.

"We need to find different routes to market, and VCE is one of those routes," Talreja said.

Brocade is pursuing a similar strategy, working closely with IBM and other data center hardware powers.

EMC-Brocade deal details
EMC and Brocade have been partners for 13 years, and EMC currently resells Brocade's Fibre Channel host bus adapters and Fibre Channel over Ethernet converged network adapters.

Under this new agreement, EMC will resell Brocade's TurboIron 24X and FCX Series switches, NetIron MLX Series routers, NetIron CES 2000 Series edge switches and ServerIron ADX Application Delivery Controllers. Brocade will also extend support to customers who buy these products through EMC.

On the Cisco front, EMC said it will offer a bundle comprising EMC storage and Cisco's 10 GbE Nexus switches.

Both the Brocade and Cisco products will be available from EMC in the third quarter, the companies said.

Senior News Director Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.

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