Brocade vs Cisco. The dance around DataCentre networking

When looking at the network market there is one clear leader and that is Cisco. Their products are ubiquitous from home computing to enterprise Of course there are others like Juniper, Nortel, Ericson but these companies only scratch the surface of what Cisco can provide. These companies rely on very specific differentiators and, given the fact they are still around, do a pretty good job at it.

A few years ago there was another network provider called Foundry and they had some really impressive products and I that’s mainly why these are only found in the core of data-centres which push a tremendous amount of data. The likes of ISP’s or  Internet Exchanges are a good fit. It is because of this reason Brocade acquired Foundry in July 2008. A second reason was that because Cisco had entered the storage market with the MDS platform. This gave Brocade no counterweight in the networking space to provide customers with an alternative.

When you look at the storage market it is the other way around. Brocade has been in the Fibre Channel space since day one. They led the way with their 1600 switches and have outperformed and out-smarted every other FC equipment provider on the planet. Many companies that have been in the FC space have either gone broke of have been swallowed by others. Names like Gadzoox, McData, CNT, Creekpath, Inrange and others have all vanished and their technologies either no longer exist or have been absorbed into products of vendors who acquired them.

With two distinct different technologies (networking & storage) both Cisco and Brocade have attained a huge market-share in their respective speciality. Since storage and networking are two very different beasts this has served many companies very well and no collision between the two technologies happened. (That is until FCoE came around; you can read my other blog posts on my opinion on FCoE).

Since Cisco, being bold, brave and sitting on a huge pile of cash, decided to also enter the storage market Brocade felt it’s market-share declining. It had to do something and thus Foundry was on the target list.

After the acquisition Brocade embarked on a path to get the product lines aligned to each other and they succeeded with  their own proprietary technology called VCS (I suggest you search for this on the web, many articles have been written). Basically what they’ve done with VCS is create an underlying technology which allows a flat level 2 Ethernet network operate on a flat fabric-based one which they have experiences with since the beginning of time (storage networking that is for them). 

Cisco wanted to have something different and came up with the technology merging enabled called FCoE. Cisco uses this extensively around their product set and is the primary internal communications protocol in their UCS platform. Although I don’t have any indicators yet it might well be that because FCoE will be ubiquitous in all of Cisco’s products the MDS platform might be abolished pretty soon from a sales perspective and the Nexus platforms will provide the overall merged storage and networking solution for Cisco data centre products which in the end makes good sense.

So what is my view on the Brocade vs. Cisco discussion. Well, basically, I do like them both. As they have different viewpoints of storage and networking there is not really a good vs bad. I see Brocade as the cowboy company providing bleeding edge, up to the latest standards, technologies like Ethernet fabrics and 16G fibre channel etc whereas Cisco is a bit more conservative which improves on stability and maturity. What the pros and cons for customers are I cannot determine since the requirement are mostly different.

From a support perspective on the technology side I think Cisco has a slight edge over Brocade since many of the hardware and software problems have been resolved over a longer period of time and, by nature, for Brocade providing bleeding edge technology with a “first-to-market” strategy may sometimes run into a bumpy ride. That being said since Cisco is a very structured company they sometimes lack a bit of flexibility and Brocade has an edge on that point.

If you ask me directly which vendor to choose when deciding a product set or vendor for a new data centre I have no preference. From a technology standpoint I would still separate fibre-channel from Ethernet and wait until both FCoE and Ethernet fabrics have matured and are well past their “hype-cycle”. We’re talking data centres here and it is your data. Not Cisco’s and not Brocade’s. Both FC and Ethernet are very mature and have a very long track-record of operations, flexibility and stability. The excellent knowledge there is available on each of these specific technologies gives me more piece of mind than the outlook of having to deal with problems bringing the entire data centre to a standstill.


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4 responses on “Brocade vs Cisco. The dance around DataCentre networking

  1. Ashli Evola

    I use firefox and some nights at 12:00 exactly or 12:30 exactly, firefox stops working and does not load a page. The internet connection is perfectly fine though because it says excellent. I am connected to a home router and the signal strength is always excellent. I do not know why this happens at exactly 12:00 or 12:30 on my desktop time but it’s a pain. I’ve tried “ping”ing and everything looks fine..

    1. Erwin van Londen Post author

      Hello Ashli,

      I think this s the wrong platform to ask these kind of questions. A firefox forum may be a better place to ask.

      Kind regards,

  2. Erwin van Londen

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for your comments. You are right that the majority of Ficon and FC Extension products came to Brocade through various acquisitions. As for calling this a technological advantage I’m not sure. Both Brocade and Cisco have obtained significant knowledge in both spaces so when looking at the sum of RFE/RFP tick-boxes I wouldn’t know which ones would show an advantage. Acquisitions done over 6 years ago do not provide an advantage in my view. Most technology has been refreshed, standards have changed and engineers working at those companies might have been jumping borders to other avenues. If a company has no products, knowledge or R&D facilities in certain spaces (like Brocade back then had with Ficon and extension) then the fasted and easiest way is an acquisition. Buying McData was a good one, keeping the product-set on the sales inventory list wouldn’t have been my option)

    I do agree that Brocade most likely has an advantage with the variety of products which fit both enterprise and SMB markets but Cisco also has products which fit both spaces. I guess in the end it comes down to customer requirements and Brocade likely has more products which can fit specific scenarios.

    As I mentioned Brocade has been around since the dawn of the FC time and hence they have a longer track-record in the FC space. This is most likely the reason why customers still look to Brocade in the FC arena and to Cisco in the networking space.

    Again, thanks for your response.

  3. rogerluethy

    Hi Erwin,

    (i’m an IBM employee)

    Good post thank you. As ex- Inrange/CNT/McData employee i have a slightly other view to this. Looking from the ESCON/FICON view into the Datacenter i see some clear advantages for Brocade (because of the heritage coming from Inrange/CNT think on the Inrange FC9000 director, CNT UMD director etc). Here Cisco is lacking behind. In the FC arena i see the most of my clients in Small- and Medium market jump on Brocade products because of the variety of there products.