The interesting thing about chili con carne is that you can have variations in the flavor and quality of the food depending on how the different ingredients are tweaked and mixed together. The same thing can be said for tech companies. Bring in a new CEO, tweak a few things, and get different results. The Mike Klayko era of Brocade is now in the books, and its time for the newly appointed CEO, Lloyd Carney, to make this version of Brocade his own. It appears he is doing so by looking ahead and not back.
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This week, I was at Brocade’s reseller conference, where the theme of the event was "Think Forward." The message here to the Brocade partners is that they need to look ahead to where networking is going to be and align their sales strategies accordingly as the tactics that worked in the past may not work so well when we’re through the current market transitions, particularly in the data center.
I do think the event indicated that we might see a different Brocade than the one we have seen in the past. As a company, Brocade has always used product innovation as its primary differentiator, especially on the Ethernet side of the business, where, as a minority share holder, technology had to be its calling card. I certainly don’t expect that to change, but I am expecting more out of the company moving forward.
The first difference was the keynote itself. I’ve seen a number of Brocade keynotes, and they have been all pretty much the same. Maybe one slide outlining a problem statement and then an hour of "why the Brocade product is the best" and a bunch of product-level discussions. The Carney keynote was forward-looking. He discussed what the current problems in networking were, and talked very little about product. He challenged the status quo in networking and outlined how networks should operate. Considering the audience was a group of resellers that make their living selling networking gear, this was a bold but necessary risk to take. It’s not just vendors that need to move out of their comfort zone to adapt to the changing face of the data center. The VARs that educate customers and sell product must push themselves out of their comfort zone as well.
Another part of both Carney’s keynote and VP Jason Nolet’s follow-on presentation was explaining the differentiation that the merging of Brocade and Foundry will bring. When Brocade first acquired Foundry, the primary focus was on channel integration with the thought being that OEM distributors of SAN infrastructure would OEM network hardware and resell it as well.
This proved false, and many questioned the value of the two companies together. At this event, Carney did a good job explaining how the future of data networking is really to have the same attributes of a storage network. High-performance, low-latency, high amounts of east/west traffic, simplified upgrades, etc. are all common with SANs and are the attributes all vendors talk about when discussing network fabrics. Many people think the VCX/VDX Ethernet fabric was the evolution of Foundry hardware, but the design and chips actually came from the Brocade side.
Lastly, I thought the last of the keynotes, a presentation by Brocade VP of Channels Regan McGrath, again showed the company was about more than product. He admitted that much of the focus for the company was to deliver quality products that provide margins that are better than the competition, but Brocade also must now help its channel partners drive more leads and provide the educational material and training to drive into new markets that may have new buyers. He was also clear on leveraging the market leadership on the SAN side of the company to create more pull-through opportunities for networking.
One issue that wasn’t addressed that I would like to see Carney and the management team at Brocade focus on is product rationalization. Compared to other networking vendors, Brocade isn’t that big a company, but it has a very broad portfolio. Data center, SAN, ADCs, Wi-Fi, access switching, routing, SP, Fabrics, etc. are all product lines that Brocade sells today. I believe Brocade would have more success and would grow faster by having a laser focus on a subset of these areas, particularly the complex areas of networking that need to be simplified, such as the campus core and data center.
Brocade has done the work on building a strong product line and has over 1,100 customers for its Ethernet fabric today. It’s time for the company to turn up the volume in a few focused areas and help customers and its channel partners take advantage of the current data center transition.