Brocade's Klayko sees long path to cloud

In an interview, CEO Michael Klayko said Fibre Channel is here to stay but Brocade has no "religion" for it

Brocade Communications remains a networking specialist in an industry where networks are becoming just part of a broader architecture for many vendors. A longtime market leader in Fibre Channel SANs (storage area networks), Brocade acquired Ethernet switch maker Foundry Networks in 2008 and now offers to tie together all elements of a data center or broader cloud infrastructure. CEO Michael Klayko has led Brocade since 2005. Last Tuesday, during an all-day press and analyst event at the company's headquarters in San Jose, California, he talked with IDG News Service about his company's own infrastructure and how it plans to keep up with bigger rivals.

IDG: There's a lot of confusion about cloud computing. What can you say to clarify what's happening there?

Klayko: You get 15 to 20 different definitions, depending on who you talk to. I would say I have a private cloud in my data center today. It's highly virtualized, it basically abstracts the application away from the operating system, we've got a storage area network. From an asset utilization standpoint, I have a cloud.

It's a business decision. Let me give an example: From a virtualization standpoint, when we talk about my business-facing applications, most of them are VMware. From an engineering standpoint, all my engineers have used Xen. In the old architecture, we couldn't mix these things together. With today's architecture, we can. I'll call it the cloud, because we have shared storage underneath it [and] we use the same server base. So we've built something that solves our business needs. And I think that's the real issue.

Everybody today that I talk to is struggling with proper asset utilization. So this big thing comes out called the cloud, and you don't have to worry about it: It's elastic, it allows you to put applications anywhere. It sounds great, and then the higher you go up in the C suite, executives all like to talk about it. They ask, why do you have to buy all these assets? Why don't you just buy a service level and get that from somebody else, and just utilize it like a utility? It sounds like utopia. We have 40 different applications that we buy from somebody else, and that run our company. We have our own infrastructure, also. We look at it from a business standpoint: Can I get it from somebody else, utilize their infrastructure and utilize their offering faster, more economically and more efficiently than I can do it myself? To me, it's math. I don't get emotional about it, and my IT guys, now I've got them not getting emotional about it. And I think most businesses, when you really get to the core of it, are like that.

Everybody knows how to build a private cloud now. All the tools are getting there, and it's all hinged around virtualization. [Then] there is the element of public clouds and the benefit of public clouds. The secret sauce that we're trying to get to is, how you merge those two. If you're a retailer, and four months of the year, your volume goes [up], you have to buy your infrastructure for the peak volume. What if you only had to buy it for the average volume you're in the rest of the year, and then just went outside during those four months? To me, that's a hell of a business application. Today, you can't really do that ... because nobody wants to allow you to have that infrastructure sharing out there until you have a long-term contract. It's not truly elastic, because they want you to use it and then stay there. The technologies we announced today, for example, this Cloud ID technology, will allow that elasticity.

This is going to take a decade. Guys that I deal with in the largest data centers in the world, we're talking about things that they're implementing three years from now. That three-year architecture is going to last for another five, seven or 10 years.

IDG: Brocade voiced strong support for Fibre Channel today while also talking about unified fabrics. Is it possible to embrace both?

Klayko: There's a lot of money invested in Fibre Channel. It works really well. All that customers want, really, is the ability to have flexibility going forward. I don't care which protocol is underneath, if it's Fibre Channel or FCOE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet] or iSCSI [Internet Small Computer System Interface] or NAS [network-attached storage] or Ethernet. It doesn't matter. We have to build that technology that allows that customer the choice. What's going to happen is, over any period of time, someone's going to go through some type of change, they're going to acquire somebody, they're going to divest, they're going to build a new data center, and at that time they're going to make a different architectural decision. [We] give them the tools to do it.

Right now, when you look at virtualization, and you need this shared storage environment underneath it, it's mostly Fibre Channel. Virtualization's not going away. You're going to need more shared storage, which means you're still going to have the need for Fibre Channel no matter what. For us and our development teams, we don't have religion anymore. Today, when you look at the storage providers who build the subsystems, their highest-performing products are all block storage products. You look at some of the emerging guys who are growing fast, like NetApp and Hitachi, their highest-performing is NAS. Perfect. Let them grow. I'm that ultimate Rosetta Stone that sits in between them to make sure that that seamlessly works.

Storage is hard. The ability to move 500 VMs with 10TB of storage and keep it all locked together, is hard. And I think there are only going to be a couple of us able to do it. Everybody needs choice, competition's good. I like our chances because, if you understand the storage side, you have a better chance of winning than [if you understood] the server side.

IDG: As a CEO, what lessons do you take from what has been happening at Cisco?

Klayko: Focus. I've known John for a long time, and he's a big company, he has to grow and so forth, For me, I have trouble keeping track of the product lines that I currently have, and all I am is a networking company. So I think anybody just needs to focus. If you look at any company that's been successful, that's what they've done. We haven't varied our strategy. I get accused of being very boring and actually not being able to make PowerPoints, because my strategy slides haven't changed in six years.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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